Deeply Held Beliefs   Leave a comment

Note: The opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not necessarily express those of my place of employment.

Not that long ago, we were having an issue at my library with a group who wanted to use one of our meeting rooms. Normally, this isn’t a problem. Except when they are both booked, and the person on the other end of the phone says, “Well, what do I do now?” while informing us in no uncertain terms they need the room more than whoever took the time to reserve it ahead of time. Which is usually us. As a library, we hold a lot of programs. Sometimes more than one at a time, which always seems to surprise these folks.

At these times, it takes a lot of effort not to say, “You could find somewhere else to hold your meeting” in a helpful tone of voice. But we try. I can’t swear we’re always successful, but we do try. Really.

The current issue came up at the end of a busy week. A woman called, frantic, because her group needed a room for a talk they were having the following Tuesday. The place where they usually held their meetings had told them they couldn’t have their room that day, and she really wasn’t sure why. The staff member who took the call was sympathetic, told her we had a room open, and directed her to complete our on-line application form. When the form hit our email inbox a few minutes later, we found out why their previous location had pulled their permission.

They were a group of people who – according to their website – “want to learn and expose the truth about the 9/11 crimes, and the massive cover-up by our government and media” which – whatever my beliefs are – is their right. The problem was with their featured speaker for the night, an anti-Semitic Holocaust denier who posits the entire September 11th tragedy was caused and implemented by the Israeli government.

Huh.

As a Jew, I have a problem with people like this. I mean, I’m not sure how anyone can justify their belief that the Holocaust didn’t happen. An estimated eleven million people – Eleven. Million. People – were killed, six million of them Jews. There is photographic evidence, eyewitness accounts, documentation. And, honestly, why would anyone make this up? Reparations? Pretty sure folks would much rather have not experienced the horrors of the time and kept their homes and families. Believing the Israeli government caused 9/11 simply adds insult to injury.

Here’s where some of you may be surprised. Or even shocked.

As a librarian, I supported their right to use our room.

Our meeting room policy is written in such a way to show that while the library will allow anyone to use our rooms, this permission doesn’t imply acceptance or approval of any group’s beliefs. Understanding that not everyone is going to appreciate this open-mindedness and may feel the need to complain in person at the event, we have a rule informing potential borrowers of our rooms they may be required to hire a security detail from our local police department if we deem it necessary. Even though I am appalled and repulsed by this particular speaker’s beliefs, I still argued if they were willing to follow the rules, they had the right to use our room.

So, you’re probably wondering at this point what happened. Here’s the short version:

They declined spending money to hire an off-duty officer to provide security and eventually found somewhere else to meet.

There is a longer version of the story, but frankly, after having spent more time than I would have liked dealing with this, I’m more than a little stressed out by the whole thing and don’t feel like rehashing it.

Mainly because I found the whole experience pretty frightening.

I’m frightened by the fact there are people out there who hate me for who I am without even knowing me. I’m frightened that there are still more people out there who believe the vitriol and the lies of this speaker and whose minds are closed off to the possibility they might be wrong.

Most of all I’m frightened by the lack of understanding I sense in these people.

I could tell by talking to her, that the organizer was honestly confused by the fact that her event wasn’t welcome at any venues in town. She couldn’t understand why people didn’t want to hear what this ‘wise man’ (her words) had to say. She also had no idea why the library insisted on a security detail, even though she stated to one of my colleagues the choice of speaker was controversial even within their group. But her confusion and frustration quickly turned to anger and blame against the library and the entire town.

The anger of some of the protesters was also disturbing. While the majority were upset, they were respectful, if disappointed the library would consider allowing such an event to take place here. There were are few, however, who were almost as vehement in their belief that we were wrong to condone such ideas and allows this group to speak. Even though our policy – as I said above – makes it clear that permission to use the room in no way condones their ideas. To these people, those were just empty words.

It’s interesting that when we have speakers whose ideals match the prevailing politics, ideas, or concepts of the area, no one bats an eye at who uses our room. With this group, we were getting phone calls from way up in Vermont letting us know we were in the wrong to even consider allowing them in our building. It didn’t help with our stress levels.

So, here’s an idea. Rather than rail at the librarians who are following the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights – and, I need to mention, doing their jobs – wouldn’t it make more sense to hold a peaceful protest? Or perhaps to ignore the offending event entirely – because, after all, what these people want more than anything is attention. Better yet, hold a competing, uplifting educational event on the other end of town with music and food and open discussion that makes no mention of the other group. I bet you’d get many more people at this type of event than can even fit in one of our meeting rooms (which each holds fifty people if there are no chairs set up). And more press. It would be a positive way to combat the incorrect information and twisted ideas of the haters.

While I can make suggestions, I don’t have a solution to this issue. I do know, I am going to continue following my library’s policies regarding who uses and what goes on in our building. That said, I am hoping not to have to deal with this again for a while.  Because what I did have for many days after the event was a pounding heart and higher than usual blood pressure. My solution?  Heading to the Y to tire myself out, then drowning my nerves in dark chocolate.  I figure this solution was something that almost everyone could agree on.

Right?

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Posted July 8, 2016 by wordsaremylife in random thoughts

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