By Jim SullivanWhen it comes to my lifetime’s favorite hangout, the public library, all I hear about it these days is that librarians ought to put a V-chip, or some similar screening contraption, in the library’s computers to block kids from seeing things they shouldn’t, like naked men and women.
Well, I object (not to the nude folks, mind you, but to the screening devices)! I’m here to say that no one in my hometown public library, which I visited as a kid, stopped me with a V-chip or with anything else electronic, mechanical, or physical from perusing whatever I wanted to in the collection. That included its vast archive, going back to the early 1920s, or National Geographic Magazine, with its easily recognizable glossy, yellow-bordered cover. All were shelved openly, if remotely, in the back of the library (but within its walls).
Certainly, the librarian, the facility’s only staffer, who was in her 80s but with all her mental faculties as sharp as ever, save for slight impairments in sight and hearing, must have known full well what I was looking at so quietly, for hours, back there in the dimly lit, narrow aisle also filled with dusty law books.
I was getting an eyeful, I’ll grant you. But at the same time, I was getting an education in more ways that one. Primarily, Africa’s, Asia’s, Australia’s, and the South Sea Islands’ past was being revealed to me. I didn’t learn till years later that there was a reputable word for what I was learning—anthropology.
In any case, I concentrated on the magazine’s text. Well—okay—I scanned the captions mostly. But I poured over those pages, mainly filled with big, black and white photos, till I nearly went blind. That affected my later life in some ways: today, for instance, I have to wear glasses. But I learned a lot about people from other lands. And that’s made me a tolerant person. I do, though, have a tendency nowadays to get a wee bit cranky with bigots and censors.
What I am, too, is self-educated. And it’s not only in the field mentioned above but also in anatomy, gross and otherwise; geography; cultures of the world; and related subjects. The credit for all that goes to National Geographic Magazine, which I still enjoy looking at. Today, by the way, I have the good lighting I need to see the pages without straining my eyes. And I do it (look at the magazine, that is) in a dust-free environment.
Admittedly, reading National Geographic Magazine as a youngster may have inadvertently accelerated the onset of my puberty. But no harm came to me as a result. On the other hand, I did marry rather young—at age 22. Yet that didn’t work out too badly, considering that my missus and I have been wed now for over 40 years.
But the point I want to make is, a V-chip might block out some things that parents don’t want their little Tommys and Marys to see. But in the process, topics that loving moms and dads, upon serious reflection, would want their children exposed to, if you’ll pardon the term, will also be covered up.
Naturally, I’m not defending hard-core stuff. That’s something else again where children are concerned. But the only sure way to keep kids from viewing or reading such anywhere is for a vigilant mother, father, older sibling (not!), or other responsible adult to be there to prevent it from happening.
One of those individuals should always accompany kids to the public library where ideas, in print, in pictures, and on the internet, possibly ideas contrary to those taught in the family home, are rampant. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, for the public library is the area’s home for different ideas.
Yes, I can safely, and proudly, proclaim that the National Geographic Magazine made a man out of me, and an informed one at that. So, censors, stop badgering librarians! They’re doing their jobs splendidly!
Jim Sullivan has been a full-time writer for the past twenty years and has been published in Pacific Coast Journal, Grit, Skeptical Inquirer, Frontiersman, Satire, and others. This essay originally appeared in Washington Free Press and is reprinted by permission.
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