Anti-Trump books keep 'going missing' at an Idaho library, says director
'It seems to be that they offended somebody with a more conservative outlook,' says Bette Ammon
Lately, Bette Ammon has been watching the stacks of non-fiction books in her public library more keenly than before.
Ammon is the director of the library in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, and she says someone has been taking books off the shelves — specifically politically progressive titles and those that criticize U.S. President Donald Trump — and stashing them where other patrons aren't likely to find them.
The culprit has been in touch, she said. They left a note in the library's comment box and confirmed their agenda.
As It Happens host Carol Off spoke to Ammon about the book bandit. Here is part of their conversation.
When did you start to realize that books in your library were not exactly where they were supposed to be?
In the summer of 2018, books started going missing — books that were current books on political issues. And then we received a patron comment card telling us that this person was hiding certain books so that others couldn't read them.
Did you find where they were being hidden?
Well, we would accidentally stumble on some. But once we got the comment card, it all kind of gelled for us and we realized that this was a deliberate attempt. So we started looking in earnest.
And what were some of the books that were being hidden?
Well, one book was Commander in Cheat by Rick Reilly — a book about golfing.
And Donald Trump.
And one book was Fire and Fury, the Michael Wolff book. And just a variety of books, not only on political issues, but on immigration and gun control, LGBTQ issues, and so on.
And what did these books have in common, as far as you could figure out?
It seems to be that they offended somebody with a more conservative outlook.
And so you received, as you said, a letter and note in the comments, [that read], according to the New York Times, "I'm going to continue hiding these books in the most obscure places I can find to keep this propaganda out of the hands of young minds."
Yes, that's exactly what it said.
And then further to it, "Your liberal angst gives me great pleasure." And now this is not the first time that you've had this problem. There's a history of this in your library.
Well, yeah, long before my time here. But in the '90s, there were incidents in Coeur d'Alene of a white supremacy movement that was quickly squashed.
The library, at that time, had a collection of books about the Holocaust, about civil rights, slavery.
And my understanding is that some of those books were stolen. So the library director locked them and put them in glass cases, and patrons had to request them if they wanted to read them.
And so when you got there, you decided that those books had to be sprung, right?
Yes. I think that any obstacle you put between the reader and the book is not a good thing. And a lot of times people will ask to have something unlocked. So we integrated those books into the regular collection.
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The complaints are that why are all these books in the library from the liberal side, the progressive side. Do you have a wide range or wide variety of books in your library?
Oh, we do. We have a real specific collection development plan and we buy books on all kinds of topics. We buy books that receive good reviews and we have a range of people in our community that we like to serve.
What has been the reaction in your town to news coverage of this? What are people saying to you?
Predominantly, people are horrified and they're sending book donations. I got a donation from New Mexico, a variety of LGBTQ books.
We've had donations of money. Somebody sent $50 last week so we could buy pocket editions of the constitution and hope that somebody would steal them.
On the subject of this public reaction, last week there was news of a local county government in Florida that refused the library's request for funding to pay for the New York Times, for a subscription. The county government said that it was "fake news." Is it difficult being a librarian these days?
You know, it shouldn't be. I think sometimes, in some communities, it might be. I think we're a pretty honourable, steadfast profession.
And, mostly, libraries are protected from policy-makers. Most library boards stand in between library services and whatever legislative whims are going on. So generally, libraries have been able to make decisions on their own about what they purchase. And I think, for the most part, that still stands.
The Florida example, if it's true, it's really disturbing.
Do you think that with all the publicity that you will see a few of your books migrating to other places in the future?
I thought that was the case after the September publicity. But the fact that we found one last week, I just don't know. But we do have one of the authors of one of the books, Commander in Cheat, the Rick Reilly book, he's coming next week to do a program here. And he's planning to hide 10 copies of his book.
To hide 10 copies?
Yeah, so people can find autographed copies.
Written by Alison Masemann and John McGill. Interview produced by Alison Masemann. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.