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Libraries Are Under Attack Because They Are Anti-Fascist

Erica Ezeifedi

Associate Editor

Erica Ezeifedi, Associate Editor, is a transplant from Nashville, TN that has settled in the North East. In addition to being a writer, she has worked as a victim advocate and in public libraries, where she has focused on creating safe spaces for queer teens, mentorship, and providing test prep instruction free to students. Outside of work, much of her free time is spent looking for her next great read and planning her next snack. Find her on Twitter at @Erica_Eze_.

HTP Books

“A delightful, gentle unfolding of stories that offer hope and joy to those who find themselves in a pivotal moment in life.” –Kirkus Reviews

For fans of The Midnight Library and Before the Coffee Gets Cold, What You Are Looking For Is in the Library is about the magic of libraries and the discovery of connection. This inspirational tale shows how, by listening to our hearts, seizing opportunity and reaching out, we too can fulfill our lifelong dreams. Which book will you recommend?

Growing up, I didn’t always see public libraries as spaces for protest. As a child, I loved books and reading, and therefore loved libraries by extension, but they have a long history of being politically active — even if they haven’t always been on the right side of history.

And not only have they been political, but the very nature of them goes against a lot of what has made America what it is. The colonialism that fueled the transatlantic slave trade — as well as the genocide of Indigenous populations — morphed into the capitalism we see today. It’s no coincidence that the very group of people who held power in the early days of the United States by brute force and subjugation is the same group who holds the majority of power in the U.S. today. They’ve been able to maintain this power in various ways. For one, they’ve spun the narrative that the U.S. is a meritocracy, and that the haves and have-nots are separated simply by hard work and self-determination, even though the social class of most people is greatly influenced by the class of their parents, not by how much they can pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

But the most harmful way colonial power has been maintained is through systemic racism. It reaches into all aspects of everyday living, affecting everything from housing and employment to education and childbirth. While libraries in the U.S. have a history of being tools to perpetuate this system, many of today’s public libraries deliberately counteract the many aspects of systemic racism and capitalism that oppose true equity. That is to say that where America runs on a fabled system of meritocracy, public libraries are actual sites for the redistribution of power. One of the ways they do this is obvious: the free loaning of books. Some of our most celebrated writers and leaders have been educated by the free books of libraries — Malcolm X very famously honed his writing and public speaking skills through the use of a prison library, even saying that his “…alma mater was books, a good library.”

The benefit of access to free books that public libraries grant cannot be overstated, but the myriad of programs they run also bolsters the community. Everything from the job and skills training to free tutoring, drag queen story hours, and the presence of social workers help not only bridge the gap between community members and much-needed resources, but also help rewrite the narrative of who belongs in society.

Therein lies their anti-fascism. Their community-centered ideology is in direct opposition to fascism, which seeks to erase the existence of people who fall outside of what it designates as its ideal citizens. This is why public libraries are one of the latest battlefields as fascism rises in the U.S. Their books help change the narratives on BIPOC and queer realities, their programming helps to achieve equity, and they give free access to information.

That book bans have increased, and librarians being placed under more pressure by conservatives has been known for a while, though. Book Riot Editor Kelly Jensen has been covering all of it extensively, even. So what is the point of this explainer? Just to state that fascism is the point. Period. Not the safety or feelings of children. Not to combat nonexistent “reverse racism.” None of that. Furthermore, the number of instances of book bans, which are propagated by a small number of people, is a tactic of fascists, not an indication of the recent decline of civilization.

When considering the librarian’s role in the prevention of the spread of fascism, Archibald MacLeish, the Librarian of Congress during WWII, said, “It is not necessary to speak of the burning of the books in Germany, or of the victorious lie in Spain, or of the terror of the creative spirit in Russia, or of the hunting and hounding of those in this country who insist that certain truths be told and who will not be silent. These things are commonplaces. They are commonplaces to such a point that they no longer shock us into anger. Indeed it is the essential character of our time that the triumph of the lie, the mutilation of culture, and the persecution of the Word no longer shock us into anger.”

Fascism may be the point, but from the librarians on the front lines, to publishing houses, booksellers, library systems, and even former U.S. presidents, we see that it definitely isn’t the conclusion.

Stay up to date on censorship by following our coverage. You can also learn more ways you can help libraries in their fight against fascism here.