Libraries: Turning Hate into Tolerance

Becoming politically active around issues of access, intellectual freedom, and digital literacy is definitely an occupational hazard of librarianship. That being said, I try very hard to keep my personal/political views separate from my job. However, much like the rest of the library blog world, I have to rejoice when a once hate-filled heart finds its way to a more accepting and tolerant attitude because of knowledge gained at a library.

I am, of course, referring to Megan Phelps-Roper, one of two recent defectors from the Westboro Baptist Church, an organization which promotes hate, protests at funerals, and wishes death upon homosexuals (among others). Megan announced on the blogging site Medium that she and her sister Grace, both grandchildren of WBC founder Fred Phelps, had severed ties with the church. In an interview with reporter Jeff Chu, she listed a number of contributing factors to her rising doubts and eventual defection: conversations with a Jewish Israeli web developer, serious contemplation of WBC messages and the Bible, and also a lovely little trip to a library:

“In December, she went to a public library in Lawrence, Kansas. She was looking through books on philosophy and religion, and it struck her that people had devoted their entire lives to studying these questions of how to live and what is right and wrong. ‘The idea that only WBC had the right answer seemed crazy,’ she says. ‘It just seemed impossible.'”

This quote has been spreading like wildfire across the library blog world over the past few days, usually with very little commentary other than something to the effect of: “BOOM. Go libraries.” I have to say, it really struck me as well. In library school you spend a lot of time talking about information processing/structure, reference interview strategies, archival theory, and cataloging best practices. But you really only spend a little bit of time (at least in class) talking about the real, gut-level reasons that librarianship is so important. Sure, we can justify our existence and the importance of our institutions like nobody’s business. Want a return-on-investment study? I can do that! Want me to whip up a marketing plan? No problem! Need an cute little handout about how and why libraries are awesome? I have it right here! But sometimes it’s nice to sit down and think, “Wow. A twenty-seven year old woman who had been raised in a culture of hate and blind obedience found a way to break free, think for herself, and get that much closer to loving her fellow human beings. And a library played a big part in that.” Awesome.

 

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