Where better to defend free speech? by David Lias My brother Jeff has never been without a friend.
While we were growing up, there could be times when he grew tired of the familiar settings of our farmhouse, our barn with its chores, or even the forts we built in the hayloft to �get away from it all.�
There�d be times when he grew tired of me and his other siblings, too.
Such feelings would compel him to find a lonely place somewhere.
But, he was never alone. His buddies had familiar names etched on their jackets � Mark and John and Ernest and William and J.D. and Harper.
His best friends, during those familiar times we all encounter when all we want is a bit of solitude, are books.
His love of reading can be credited, in part, to me and my twin brother. We are a year older than Jeff. That meant he had to watch helplessly as Mike and I boarded the school bus at the end of our driveway every morning five days a week while he had to stay home.
It just about drove him nuts. We would come home with all sorts of papers and Weekly Readers and, from time to time, a Dick and Jane book.
Jeff would just devour that stuff. He knew how to read before he started school.
By the time he was in third grade, the material in the Humboldt Elementary Library (all three shelves worth) was no longer satisfactory.
Thank goodness for the bookmobile.
The bookmobile sort of looked like a self-propelled Airstream trailer � without the silver exterior. It traveled from the Sioux Falls city library to communities throughout Minnehaha County, including my hometown.
Jeff took full advantage of this wonderful service.
My friends and I were satisfied by checking out books written, according to signs on the bookmobile�s shelves, for �our age range.�
We hadn�t yet heard of Mark Twain or John Steinbeck or Ernest Hemingway or Harper Lee.
These were people that Jeff wanted to get to know. He didn�t care how thick their books were.
In fact, there were times I�m sure he challenged himself by wandering to the adult section to find the most voluminous tome on the shelf.
Unlike his classmates, he didn�t care if the book was written in fine print. Or (gasp!) had no pictures.
When he was just a sixth-grader, I thought he was going to get a hernia lugging home Rickenbacker: An Autobiography.
The book was nearly 500 pages thick. After he started reading it, Eddie Rickenbacker was the only thing he would talk about.
When chores got too boring in the barn, a bale of straw became a WWI fighter plane, a pitchfork became the stick in the cockpit, and Jeff re-enacted all of the dogfights that Rickenbacker vividly described in his book.
I know a bit about Rickenbacker. You see, Jeff burned through that book so fast that I had time to crack it open before the bookmobile returned to Humboldt.
It was fascinating. I, too, had made a new friend.
You, likely, are surrounded by similar friends. There aren�t many households in our community that lack books, magazines or newspapers.
Sadly, there are many places in the world where people�s minds are literally starving.
In at least one country � Cuba, with its decades of oppression � that is changing, thanks to a tiny library on the windswept plains of South Dakota � namely, the Vermillion City Library.
On Dec. 24, we carried the story about the Vermillion library�s efforts to sponsor the Dulce Maria Loynaz Library in Havana, Cuba.
This Cuban library, an unofficial institution free of government control, is one of approximately 250 independent libraries founded since 1998 to challenge restrictions on freedom of information. The goal of Cuba�s independent library movement is to offer public access to uncensored books reflecting all points of view.
The decision of the Vermillion library�s board of trustees to take a stand for intellectual freedom hasn�t gone unnoticed.
Other local media have picked up the story. So have some rather influential publications.
�It wasn�t the Santa Clauses and candy canes decking the halls of the U.S. diplomatic office in Havana that prompted Fidel Castro to order the Christmas decorations dismantled there. It was the light display forming the number 75,� reported the Wall Street Journal on Dec. 23. �That�s how many political dissidents Castro rounded up in March 2003 and threw into Cuban jails. At their trials, these librarians, journalists and peaceful political activists received sentences of up to 28 years. Now a loosely connected international movement of librarians is refusing to forget their Cuban colleagues.
�One inspiring example comes from the town of Vermillion, South Dakota, whose public library is sponsoring the independent � that is, not government-run � Dulce Maria Loynaz Library in Havana. The Loynaz Library was one of the institutions singled out during the 2003 crackdown. The director�s husband, Hector Palacios, was arrested and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Most of the library�s books were confiscated by the police ?�
In a Dec. 28 blurb titled �Quick Hit for the Day,� Doug MacEachern, editorial writer�for the Arizona Republic, noted, �Where better to defend free speech? The Vermillion, S.D., Public Library just got my vote for First Amendment defender of the year. This tiny library is a sponsor of the Loynaz Library in Havana, which dared to dispense books without Castro�s approval. For his cheek, one of the Loynaz founders is serving a 25-year prison sentence. Where are America�s great library associations in this fight?�
Hopefully, the Vermillion library won�t be alone in its role as a freedom fighter.
Hopefully, the Vermillion library�s action also serve as a wake up call to all of us.
The freedom to read is essential to our democracy. We so easily take it for granted.
Yet, here in America, the �land of the free,� reading is constantly being threatened in some manner.
The situations in our country usually aren�t nearly as severe as what happened in Cuba (librarians, and the books they support, aren�t being spirited away) but private groups and public authorities in various parts of the nation are working to remove or limit access to reading materials, to censor content in schools, to label �controversial� views, to distribute lists of �objectionable� books or authors, and to purge libraries.
If we all received a dollar every time some library or school tried to ban The Adventures of Huckelberry Finn, (never mind that it is THE great American novel � it has �that� word in it!) we�d all have enough money to finance our own personal libraries.
Apparently, there are still groups of well-meaning yet mistaken groups of people who believe that censorship and suppression are needed to counter a perceived threat engraved on the pages of books and other reading material.
Thank goodness that these people are seldom successful. Thank goodness that, for generations now, institutions � ranging from the bookmobile that visited my school years ago, to the Vermillion Public Library today � have served as advocates for freedom by preserving our right to read.
Did you know that, besides being a WWI flying ace, Eddie Rickenbacker was a race car driver and in his later years, survived an airplane crash in the Pacific Ocean by bobbing three weeks in a life raft? Read his book. Or contact Plain Talk Editor David Lias at firstname.lastname@example.org.