This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, April 14, 1999

April 14, 1999 - National Holocaust Awareness Week

This week happens to be both National Library Week and National Holocaust Awareness Week. At first blush, there wouldn't appear to be much in common between them.

But I have a picture from May 10, 1933. A "brown shirt" (Nazi) is throwing an armful of "un-German" books onto a bonfire. The place: Berlin.

In January of the same year, Adolf Hitler had been named Chancellor of Germany, the most powerful position in the government. The aging President Hindenburg hoped Hitler would lead the nation out of its grave political and economic crisis.

But among Hitler's first acts was to convince the cabinet to invoke emergency clauses of the Constitution allowing suspension of individual freedoms of the press, speech, and assembly.

Also in 1933, new German laws forced Jews -- who comprised less than one percent of the total national population -- to quit civil service jobs, university and law court positions, and many other positions of public service. Five years later, in November of 1938, Jewish synagogues, homes, and shops were destroyed and many Jews arrested and murdered, in what the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum describes as "a centrally organized riot" or pogrom. Today we remember it as "Kristallnacht" -- the Night of Broken Glass.

Additional targets of Nazi persecution were the Roma (Gypsies), homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Poles, and the handicapped.

Then came the concentration camps -- six central sites. The death toll at each was as follows: Chelmno - 150,000 deaths. Belzec - 600,000. Sobidor - 200,000. Treblinka - 750,000. Majdanek - 275,000. Auschwitz-Birkenau - more than 1.25 million.

We must never forget such horrors. And librarians will never forget that it all began with book-burning.

Just fifty years later, a radical group of neo-Nazis began claiming that the Holocaust never happened, a monstrous lie. But the only way to drive out bad information is through the production of, and access to, contrary evidence. Such evidence resides -- in incontrovertible detail -- in libraries.

Usually, librarians focus on the positive side of our profession: our focus on childhood and adult literacy, our position as a public gathering place and a quiet sanctuary in a culture dedicated to the frenzy of consumer consumption.

But one of our most important roles is often uncomfortable. We are the repository of human memory. That memory includes much that is nightmarish.

In recent years, libraries have come under fire for documents the American Library Association has adopted to guide its members: mainly the Freedom to Read Statement, the Freedom to View Statement, and the Equal Access to Minors Statement. In these increasingly conservative times, many believe that libraries should "protect" children. But children don't need to be protected from ideas. They need ideas to protect themselves. The same is true for adults.

While it sounds almost un-American to say so, consensus doesn't have anything to do with truth. To put it another way, just because we all agree with each other, doesn't mean we're right. There was a time when everyone agreed that the earth was flat. People who disagreed were tortured and even killed for their heresy. There was a time when a whole nation permitted the virtual extermination of Jews within its borders.

Libraries stand at the other end of the Inquisition, the other side of the fear-mongering of the Nazis. We not only permit intellectual curiosity, we actively encourage it. Even when such a role is not popular, it is nonetheless altogether proper for us.

The fundamental dignity of individual inquiry is the whole meaning of the public library. If we don't stand for that, we stand for nothing.

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