It's Not All About You

Amy told me about this yesterday--Tina Harden is an Orlando mom who thinks she ought to be able to decide, unilaterally, which books belong on the public library's shelves.

Longwood parent Tina Harden was so disturbed by references to sex and drugs and foul language in the world of fictional teenager Jenny Humphrey that she is ignoring overdue notices and phone calls from her neighborhood library and its bill collector.

Harden refuses to return several books connected to the Gossip Girl series that detail Humphrey's life, even though she's had them since 2008.

"If I turn them in, they will be put back into circulation and they'll be available for more young girls to read," said the mother of three, who keeps the four books hidden in a closet. "Some material is inappropriate for minors."
I'm going to make a quick prediction here--the daughter that Harden is trying so desperately to "protect" from these books is going to try all those things that Harden is trying to protect her from, possibly in very public and foolish ways. That's what teenagers do.

Harden has every right to restrict her daughter's reading material. I think it's a little silly and a little late--Harden, after all, didn't discover the nature of the books until after her daughter had checked them out and read them--but that doesn't mean she has the right to steal from the library just because she disapproves of the content of those books. Harden justifies her actions this way:
That's not good enough for Harden, who said that as a taxpayer she should have a say in which books land on the libraries' shelves. "They're supposed to be public servants," she said.
There's a couple of interesting things going on in this argument. First, there's the idea that being a taxpayer gives you the right to set the rules for everyone else. The fact is that Harden, just like everyone else in the community, gets to "have a say" in which books show up on the shelves. You can "have a say" by donating books, by requesting certain books be carried, or by objecting to certain books. What you don't have is the final say--the librarians do--and that's what's cheesing off Harden, because she obviously feels that they're not good enough to make those decisions.

Why do I say that last part? Harden said "they're supposed to be public servants," and in the context of this disagreement, that seems to me to throw a lot of weight on the "servant" part of the sentence, as though the librarian is supposed to be the serf who bends to your every literary demand. But she neglects the "public" part of that construction, or rather, she narrows it. I figure it works this way:
The librarian is a public servant.
I am a member of the public.
The librarian is my servant.
The flaw in that argument is apparent to anyone who doesn't think the world revolves around their arrogant asses. You are not the public--you are only a member, and there are other members with equally valid positions, some of which may gasp! differ from your own. And that's why we give public servants a fair amount of autonomy, because they have to balance all these competing interests.

If there's a good thing to take away from this, it's that the library has come off as completely reasonable in the article, and the journalist illustrated the important and difficult jobs that librarians have, especially given the cutbacks they've had to endure the past few years. I'd be interested to know just how Harden votes when it comes to taxes that support the library her daughter frequents.

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