In the United States it is not uncommon for libraries to have parts of their collection challenged. Concerned citizens, usually of the Christian kind, are continually trying to have books removed which do not conform to their values. It’s symptomatic of the way fanaticists of any stripe are always trying to limit the choices available to all of us. It’s not enough for them that they believe in some sort of Salvation – you must be saved, too, at gunpoint if need be.
‘Only in America’ is what one might say. Not so. During the campaign Holland Reads libraries in the Netherlands give free books to their customers; this year it’s Harry Mulisch‘ 1975 novel (translated 1978) Two Women. Mulisch, seen by many as the greatest living writer of the Netherlands, tells the story of a lesbian relationship. It’s not at all a graphic account of lesbian love – Mulisch focuses on the emotional rather than the erotic side of things, and I for one admire him for succeeding in creating not one but two credible, emotionally interacting examples of the most elusive creatures the male writer faces: women.
The library in the central Dutch town of Barneveld however decided not to give away this book to it’s customers (link, in Dutch). Barneveld is a strictly Christian town and the library itself decided that it’s customers would not be interested in an account of lesbian love. A lovely example of the we’ll-decide-for-you culture, this time provided by the very people which are hired to maintain a collection of knowledge for the purpose of letting the people decide what they want to inform themselves about.
Any library board failing to grasp the most basic idea behind it’s institution – that is, to unconditionally provide the broadest possible collection of art and knowledge to the people – needs to go look for another job. But I am sad to report that there’s not even a tiny scandal brewing on the back of this (yesterday’s) news. Next stop: book burnings. Enjoy your trip.