Public Libraries: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver | Transcript

John Oliver details the response to the past week’s campus protests, offers a reminder on what those protests are about, and explains why public libraries are under attack.
S11 E10: Libraries, Campus Protests & Gaza: 5/5/24: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Season 11 Episode 10
Aired on May 5, 2024

Main segment: Book banning at public libraries in the United States
Other segments: 2024 pro-Palestinian protests on university campuses (specifically at Columbia and UCLA)

John Oliver details the response to the past week’s campus protests, offers a reminder on what those protests are about, and explains why public libraries are under attack.

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[Cheers and applause]

JOHN: Welcome, welcome, welcome to “Last Week Tonight!” I’m John Oliver. Thank you so much for joining us. It has been a busy week, from China launching a probe to the dark side of the moon, to Boris Johnson getting turned away from voting in the UK, under his own voter ID rules. But we’re going to focus on the U.S., with the hard crackdown on students protesting Israel’s ongoing military assault in Gaza. At UCLA, cops fired so-called “less lethal” bullets into the crowd, and at City College and Columbia in New York, police swarmed campuses in numbers so extreme, this student summed it up pretty well.

What do you think about the NYPD moving in?

It’s insane. We have a right to protest. We have a right. Look at that. That’s fucking crazy.

What are you gonna do when they make the arrests? What are you gonna do if you get arrested?

What am I gonna do? I can’t really do much.

Are you gonna go with the police if they make arrests?

If they start arresting? I guess so.

JOHN: Okay, first, did that reporter just ask “are you gonna go with the police if they arrest you?” Kudos to that student for giving the calmest possible answer to what might be the dumbest question ever asked on TV. “If the guys with guns put you in handcuffs and drag you to jail, will you go with them?” “Yeah, I guess so.” Also, thoughts and prayers to the loved ones of the one boomer who was killed by hearing that student say “fuck” on Fox News. Somewhere, a family’s writing pee-paw’s obituary: Paul John Roberts passed away in his home when his eyeballs, heart, and butthole exploded at the same time. He is survived by his wife and three adult children who no longer speak to him.” Police have broken up demonstrations at over 80 campuses nationwide, often under the pretext that it was necessary to keep students safe, and combat antisemitism. And look, some Jewish students have reported feeling unsafe. And there have been scattered examples of antisemitic rhetoric among protestors in– and around– campuses. And that’s clearly unacceptable. But for what it’s worth, some Jewish student groups have expressed support for the protests, or even been actively involved in organizing them, to the point that there was a Shabbat service at the university gates at Columbia. Also, these protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful. When there’s been violence, it’s mostly been directed at the protestors themselves. You might’ve seen protestors at UCLA getting attacked as the police stood by, or the multiple cases of police inflicting violence themselves, like in this footage of them throwing a 65-year-old professor at Dartmouth to the ground. And how exactly was she a threat? The only crime I can see that 65-year-old tenured professor committing is maybe sneaking a Brazil nut from the co-op’s bulk section. Also, that woman’s not only Jewish, she’s a professor of Jewish studies, yet she’s being brutalized by police, supposedly there to keep Jewish people safe. And to justify their disproportionate response, those in authority have gone out of their way to paint these protests as something sinister. Eric Adams, New York mayor and future Club Shay Shay guest, suggested students were puppets of “outside agitators” and implied there might be a larger, nefarious scheme afoot.

Why is everybody’s tent the same? Was there a fire-sale on those tents? There’s some organizing going on. You know, there’s a well-concerted organizing effort, and what’s the goal of that organizing?

JOHN: Okay, first, of course these protests are organized. Most protests are organized. You sound like an idiot. When New Jersey sends us mayors, they’re clearly not sending their best. Second, the ubiquity of those tents on campus can perhaps be explained by the fact they’re incredibly cheap. As a reporter found this week– students searching Amazon for tent would be prompted to buy the green camel crown tent for $35 and offered one-day shipping. In fact– and this is true– if you search “cheap shitty tent” on Amazon, the first result is that very tent. So, which explanation is more likely? A shadowy force is engaging in a massive camping supply-related conspiracy which was only foiled by expert tent sleuth Eric Adams? Or, college students are broke and never scroll past the first result on Amazon? It’s important we consider both sides equally. And the conspiratorial rhetoric continued when an NYPD deputy commissioner went on TV to fearmonger about the big scary chains they encountered on doors at Columbia.

This is not what students bring to school, okay? This is what professionals bring to campuses and universities. These are heavy industrial chains that were locked with bike locks, and this is what we encountered on every door at Hamilton Hall.

JOHN: What are you talking about? That’s a bike chain and lock. Something students absolutely bring to school. In fact that particular model is promoted on Columbia’s own fucking website, which even sells them at a discount. It’s also called, and this is true, the “New York fahgettaboudit chain.” Which is perfect. Because that chain promises: you can lock up your bike in New York, and then with total peace of mind, you can “fahgettaboudit!” But the nonsense didn’t stop there. The NYPD also posted some of the damning evidence they’d found, including a book on terrorism, all caps, which turned out to be this book, an academic study by a British professor, and very much not a how-to manual, given that it asks questions like “what can we do to stop it?” As for safety, it emerged an officer accidentally fired a gun inside that building at Columbia, with the police later explaining it was only because he was using it as a flashlight. And why are you using your gun for that? There’s a flashlight on your fucking phone, and you can’t tell me a cop in New York City doesn’t know how to use one of those. You’re on them all fucking the time! And, again, I’m not saying there weren’t some individuals in these large crowds, saying indefensible things. But every protest has that. Everyone who’s ever been to a protest has at some point seen a sign and thought to themselves, “shit, not sure about that one. I’m here for abortion rights, do we really need to bring 9/11 into this?” But, for the most part, they were very much in the tradition of campus protests we’ve seen for decades. Even the takeover of a building at Columbia– the event used to justify the police raid this week– is something that’s happened multiple times before. In 1968, that same building was occupied to protest the Vietnam War. In 1985, it was barricaded for three weeks to demand divestment from apartheid South Africa, and in 1992, there was a blockade over Columbia’s plans to destroy the site where Malcolm X was assassinated. The university actually suspended four of the students involved in that one– only to later invite one of them back, Ben Jealous, back to speak at their commencement, once he had become the head of the NAACP. And in the opening line of his speech, he reminded Columbia what had happened to him there.

Whenever I can walk out of low library and not be led out in handcuffs it’s a good day. [Laughter]

JOHN: That’s a pretty solid opening line there. And I’d hate to be the administrator that had to invite him to give that speech. “Hi, Ben. So you can talk about anything you want, like leadership, or gratitude, or even forgiving us for the whole handcuff thing. It’s really up to you! But maybe that last one. Bye!” The point is, student protests against injustice generally age pretty well, and the efforts to criticize or crack down on them, tend not to. And it’s alarming how much attention has been focused on the protests this week, rather than what they’ve been protesting about, which is what’s been happening in Gaza, where it seems the Israeli military is still planning to invade Rafah, “with or without a deal” in ongoing ceasefire negotiations– despite the fact that’d put hundreds of thousands of Palestinians “at imminent risk of death.” And for all the concern over schools here in the US, it’s worth noting that, in addition to the massive loss of life in Gaza, more than 80% of schools there are now damaged or destroyed. What’s happening there is a catastrophe that is absolutely worth vigorous protest. And at a moment when “student safety” is the buzzword justifying so much violence here in the U.S., it’s worth hearing what the safety situation is like for a university student in Gaza.

Personally, I feel like I lost everything. I lost my dreams, my future, all of my dreams that I imagined. Before seven months of now, we just have a building and my university to go and to study in it. Now we don’t have anything because Israeli occupation was destroying– destroyed everything. Finally, thanks– thanks for all American university that stand by us and make effort to prevent the war. Thank you. We– we are lost everything, but we can’t lose the hope because of you, because you stand by us. Thank you.

JOHN: Yeah. That is deeply moving. And to answer the question Eric Adams asked earlier, “what’s the goal of all the student organizing?” That’s kind of the goal right there. To ensure the safety of that student, and the hundreds of thousands like her in Gaza, in the face of this onslaught. And I know people will try and distract you from that goal, with bullshit fearmongering about camping equipment and terrorism books. But if you’re at all tempted to fall for any of that, may I recommend you take a lesson from one of New York’s most commonly available bike chains and just “fahgettaboudit!”


JOHN: Moving on. Our main story tonight concerns books. You know– beloved works like The Great Gatsby, Charlotte’s Web, and The Berenstain Bears. And you might think “Berenstain” is misspelled there. You might remember it as s-t-“e”-i-n, but that’s wrong. It’s a weird Mandela effect thing a lot of people misremember, but it’s always been the beren-“stain” beavers. It was always spelled with an “a.” Specifically, we’re going to be talking about public libraries. Which of course, lend books, but increasingly, have become so much more than that.

Sure, you can check out books and DVDs at Placentia Library, but now you can also check out one of these.

You can also check out a fishing pole and keep it for three weeks. You can check out a really neat telescope and have a star party with your family.

Alongside books and movies are things like air fryers and bundt cake pans.

If you want to plant a garden, we have seeds that you can check out.

I don’t know of anywhere else that they can borrow a mounted sandhill crane and just study it up close.

JOHN: Yeah, I’ll bet there isn’t anywhere else you can borrow a mounted sandhill crane because according to message boards, they’re very difficult to mount! When a user named Eric asked for “sandhill crane mounting information before I tackle these tall guys!” One person said, “so you know in advance… You will use every curse word when you are wiring the legs,” while someone called Greg suggested contacting a magazine that had covered the topic recently saying quote “I am not a bird guy but I remember reading that article and thinking it was fairly easy” which… Shut up, Greg. Sit this one out. Eric’s clearly stressing and you’re telling him to “call a magazine”? He’s reaching out to his community for support and you’re not that community right now. You’re not a bird guy? Well this is a bird guys-only convo, okay, Greg? Fuck you. The point is, at some libraries, you can now borrow pretty much anything, from a fishing pole, to a leaf blower, to seeds, to a copy of a Barenstain Badgers book. Again, your memory is wrong. “Barenstein badgers” was always spelled b-“a”-r– there was never an “e” there. Not just that– libraries offer internet access, translation help, notary services, printing and a bunch of other necessities. They’re also a refuge for unhoused people, or those without air-conditioning or heating. All of which explains why libraries are incredibly popular, garnering an estimated four million visits every day mostly by young adults, women, and low-income households. But as you probably know from the fact that I’m talking about libraries right now, they’re in trouble, because they’ve become another front in the ongoing culture war. We’ve talked before about how conservatives have targeted school libraries, but those debates have now emphatically migrated over to public libraries as well, with residents spouting talking points like these.

I do not want our children, or grandchildren seeing these books. I feel they’re damaging psychologically.

It isn’t left versus right, but it’s right versus wrong. These books are wrong and they’re destroying our community.

Books in our taxpayer-funded libraries make the jobs of human and child traffickers easier.

JOHN: Okay, that last one sounds a little hard to believe, unless one of the books at the library happens to be “child trafficking for dummies.” But those aren’t isolated instances. The American Library Association documented efforts to censor over 4,200 unique book titles last year in schools and libraries, the highest level they’ve ever recorded, with the number of titles targeted for censorship at public libraries, in particular, rising by 92% from the previous year. And that’s not all– bomb threats have been called in to libraries across the country, and librarians themselves have been the recipients of some pretty nasty abuse.

I had heard people saying that I was a pedophile, I was grooming kids.

People in my profession are called pedophiles and like these horrible, horrible things.

I can say unequivocally we’re not pedophiles or groomers, and I can say that on behalf of our staff. That– that is not why we go into public service or librarianship.

JOHN: Yeah, of course not. That’s why you go into the clergy. Everybody knows that. We all know! So given all this, tonight, let’s talk about public libraries: why they’re under attack, where these challenges are coming from, and what the consequences might be. And let’s start with how public libraries operate. Generally, they receive the vast majority of their funding from local government sources. And they’re typically overseen by a local library board, which can be either elected, or appointed by members of the local government. And librarians actually get rid of books all the time, through a process known as “weeding.” It’s done for all sorts of good reasons like a book being out of date, severely damaged, or simply so weird no one wants to check it out anymore. Books like Body Watchin’ is fun!, Latawnya, the Naughty Horse, Learns to Say no to Drugs, and the Christian child-discipline classic, God, the Rod, and your Child’s Bod. Fun fact: a new copy of that is currently selling on Amazon for $214. So if you don’t want to pay that, you better hope your local library has it. Or you know what? You can just borrow my copy here instead. It’s fine. But what we’re talking about tonight isn’t “weeding.” It’s books being removed– or relocated from one section to another– purely for their content. And most libraries already have a “book challenge” protocol, allowing anyone who feels that a book violates its selection policies to submit a formal “request for reconsideration,” after which, staff will review the complaint and decide whether to leave it, reshelve it, or remove it entirely. And you should know: there are some legal limits here. You can’t just demand a book be banned– even if it is “to protect the children.” That’s because, but there’s an things unsuitable for. But there’s an exception when it comes to obscenity which for minors is defined as material that appeals to their prurient interest, is offensive to prevailing standards about what is suitable for minors, and lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value. The problem is, some have tried to apply that standard incredibly broadly. Take what happened in Huntington Beach, California, where the city council mandated that library books containing “any content of sexual nature” be moved away from anyone under 18.

At the direction of the Huntington Beach city council, librarians at the central library are starting to sort through thousands of books in the children’s section. Their task, according to officials, is to relocate books that contain, quote, “sexual content.” Library staff began in the health section and pulled books pertaining to the human body and puberty. We also saw books about boats that were being moved. A peek at the pages show a child in a bathtub playing with toy boats, and a sketch of early explorers.

JOHN: Yeah, it’s ridiculous. And it wasn’t just shirtless rowers and kids in tubs that got flagged. That resolution ultimately relocated books like own your period. Puberty is gross but also really awesome, and everyone poops to the adult section of the library. And it’s ridiculous to do that, especially when you’re keeping shel silverstein books in the kids’ area– books which contain actual author photos like this one. If a kid borrows Runny Babbit, reads it to the end and sees that photo, don’t be surprised if their first question is “mommy, what’s big dick energy?” And that’s not an isolated case. In one town in Texas, officials removed three books from the I Need a New Butt! Series which is a children’s book about a boy who needs a new butt because his has a crack. And I haven’t read it yet, so don’t spoil the end by telling me if he gets one or not. They also pulled four books about farts starring a goose, a snowman, a heart, and a leprechaun. And first, you gotta be pretty stupid to believe they’re harmful to children. And second, it seems you can make a killing writing books about farting. Because there are so many of them, including– and these are all real– ones about farting flamingos, farting unicorns, farting turkeys, farting princesses, farting dragons, and of course, Gary the farting gingerbread man. And while those instances were one-offs, increasingly, the lists of books challenged at libraries can be suspiciously similar. That’s because challenges are often coming through highly organized groups– often conservative, and extremely religious, who are compiling and sharing lists of books to oppose. Up until 2021 the vast majority of challenges only sought to remove or restrict a single book. But now, 93% of them involve attempts to censor multiple titles, with more than half involving 100 or more books. And that starts to make sense, when you see how these groups operate. Take clean up Samuels– which is sadly not a group organized around the collective goal of washing as many guys named Samuel as possible. Instead, it refers to Samuels Public Library in Front Royal, Virginia. The group’s held events at which people filled out over 500 forms challenging nearly 150 books, with one event promising “beer and babysitting.” Which might be the most “divorced dad” activity I can think of. “Okay kids, get in the car, I need to go protect your innocence by drinking beer and looking at babysitters.” Those book challenges heavily targeted books with lgbtq+ characters or themes-with people frequently admitting, when asked if they’d read the books in full, they hadn’t, with answers ranging from “no,” to “who that is normal could get through it,” to “I looked at the summary … It told me all I needed to know.” And that’s possible because these groups often find “problematic” books by scanning websites and Facebook pages that list them, like Mary in the library, rated books, and, perhaps the most prevalent, booklooks. And for a site set up as a moral crusader, it’s a bit weird that in their logo, the b and the l are fucking. Like, definitely fucking, right? I know sometimes, I project horniness when it isn’t there– except for that shel silverstein photo, because I’m dying on that hill– but I’m having a genuinely hard time seeing anything in that logo that isn’t a strong b taking a willing l and absolutely breaking its back. Booklooks rates books on a 0 to 5 scale from least to most objectionable, sometimes including a handy chart, noting the amount of times certain words are used. For instance, this is the chart for the book “wicked,” and I’ll just say: if there was a party game where you had to guess a book or movie based solely on one of those charts, you could sell– no exaggeration– ten million of those games. Okay, it’s a novel from 2001. 24 Fucks, so it’s not Life of Pi. Not The Other Boleyn Girl. Hang on, “nine” dicks? Wait: is it Choke by Chuck Palahniuk? Yes! 24 Fucks yes, I love this game! Even our book, A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, which has been challenged a bunch in libraries, is criticized for featuring “alternate sexualities; and controversial political and social commentary.” Citing: the illustration on this page depicts two male rabbits holding paws as a human would hold another person’s hand. The rabbits are discussing how much they love each other and want to marry one another.” You know, filth. But that’s clearly nonsense. If there’s anything controversial in our book it’s that the animals dress up for weddings but at other times they’re mostly naked except for this badger whose arms turn into sleeves. And even then, the problem isn’t the implied nakedness, it’s just the lack of consistency there. Now to be fair, some titles on these lists do contain explicit content. In some cases, they’re books about puberty. In others, they may be meant for teenagers, and contain references to sex. Which is exactly why they’re not shelved with children’s books to begin with. Libraries generally have an adult section, a young adult section, and a kids’ section. It’s not like teen books with explicit content are shelved right next to The Berensteen Bees books. Yeah– it’s always been spelled e-“e”-n. Your memory is bad. But the content often gets framed in extremely misleading ways. For instance, the book Let’s Talk About It has been repeatedly challenged. It’s billed as “the teen’s guide to sex, relationships, and being a human,” and here’s how one mom in Iowa argued for it to be restricted at her local library.

When I initially read this book, I was filled with anger. Quote, “sending or getting an unwanted saucy something from a partner or individual can be the highlight of your day, period. It is thrilling, sexy, and fun.” The online world is also a chock-block full of pornography professionals and amateurs alike, sharing their sexy adventures online. There is nothing wrong with enjoying some porn. It is a fun, sugary treat. I have to pause because no matter how many times I say these words, it scares me.

JOHN: Okay, first, “porn is a sugary treat,” sounds like the tagline for an upcoming X-rated spin on gummy bears, an adult film that either exists already or will shortly after this episode airs. But look, those words are in the book. And if you go on “Booklooks,” you’ll see they’re quoted on their review page. But if you actually read the book itself, you’ll see that they’re surrounded by a lot of careful advice. For instance, that one line about sexting has a ton of context around it, with advice like get prior consent, don’t share or spread the photos you receive, and “wait till you’re a legal adult” to do it. As for that sugary treat line, it’s part of a long, thoughtful discussion that includes– among many other things– that porn can create “unrealistic expectations,” “the people you see on camera are real human beings who deserve your respect,” and “if the amount of porn you watch feels like it’s impacting your life, then it’s probably time to pull back and give it some thought.” Which is good advice! And in a country where 17 states provide abstinence-only sex education, it might be the most honest discussion about porn some teens get, especially if they have the kind of mom who has a fucking panic attack at the very idea of it. And while she’ll say she just wanted the library to require parental permission to access the book– which is still a big barrier to a teenager who might need to read it– there’ve been other attempts to try and get it out of libraries altogether. And you do get the sense that people who want to censor these books can have no real idea of what’s inside them– or, indeed, if they’re even at the libraries they’re protesting at all, as happened in Idaho.

Five years ago this was anointed the best small library in America. Today the trusties a facing a recall. The director just resigned. Do you feel that you’ve given in? That you’ve been defeated here?

That– part of me does, yes. But they start showing up at your house, guns on their hips and bible tracks in their hands.

Activists demanding the library ban more than 400 books. Like Gender Queer.

Even if we do nothing to you, eventually, if you don’t repent of wanting to harm our children with pornography, that’s up to god.

Things need to change. Otherwise, you bring curses upon yourselves, period, from the most high.

Are any of those books in the library?

Not a single one.

JOHN: It’s true. Activists demanded that books they hadn’t read be removed from a library that didn’t have them, which as far as protests go is about as meaningful as marching to the Hollywood sign to demand Frankie Muniz return his Oscar for Schindler’s List. He’s not there, he wasn’t “in” that, and the very fact you’re protesting this tells me you’re probably not familiar with the material. And even after that group was told the library didn’t have any of the 400 books they wanted banned, they demanded its board pass a policy promising not to order controversial books, or, if they did, to place them in an adults-only room. They also asked the library to judge books “under god’s standards and not of the world’s standards.” You know. God. The freak known for building a nude garden he could watch all day. The guy who commissioned the construction of an all-animal fuck boat, and who sat back and watched while his son got nailed? Oh, I’m sorry, am I misunderstanding the bible by taking things out of context? Forgive me, I haven’t read it. I looked at the summary. It told me all I needed to know. And it’s worth taking a moment on the book they mentioned there, Gender Queer, because it’s the most frequently challenged book in America for the last three years running. It’s a graphic novel that’s a memoir of the author’s struggles with gender identity, but it’s often reduced, out of context, to some of its most explicit passages, one of which, you may remember, was read aloud in the senate last year by John Kennedy.

I got a new strap-on– strap on harness today. I can’t wait to put it on you. It will fit my favorite dildo perfectly. You’re going to look so hot. I can’t wait to have your cock in my mouth. I’m going to give you the blow job of your life. Then I want you inside of me.

JOHN: That clip is just a perfect mix of being horrendously disorienting and kind of delightful. It’s like watching a dog walk on its hind legs and then watching the same dog say “I can’t wait to have your cock in my mouth.” Now, it is not unreasonable to say, “that shouldn’t be shelved directly alongside the picture books in the children’s section of the library.” And you know who agrees with that? The author of the fucking book.

I don’t think the book is for children. But I do think that it is appropriate for teen readers, and also that libraries have books for all ages, and you shelve them with signage, and people browse and find the books that they need in a library and not every book in the library is for every reader, but they still need to be available.

JOHN: Exactly. It’s not a children’s book. Which is why it’s not shelved with them. And that author raises an important distinction there: some books aren’t appropriate for 5-year-olds, but might be if you’re 16. Because those are very different phases of life, that we don’t treat the same way. It’s why a 16-year-old driving a car is perfectly legal, and a 5-year-old driving a car is a news story. And yet, for some, keeping books like Gender Queer out of the kid’s section– where, again, it isn’t– still isn’t enough.

Children are very literal. They’re very impressionable. They’re going to look at those pictures and they very much look like children in the pictures. Sex isn’t for kids. It has serious consequences. We should not be encouraging them to engage in sexual acts. In Lapeer, the book is shelved in the adult section, but Parkes says it’s still attractive to children. I mean it’s beautiful, it really is. It’s nature. So, I think this would attract any child because it looks like a car– you know, it’s cartoonish.

JOHN: But it’s in the adult’s section! If a child finds it, it’s because they’re somewhere they’re not supposed to be. So if anything, the kid should get into trouble, not the book. And honestly, that’s where the rod comes in. Look, he’s eating cookies on the cover. He needs to be stopped. The argument is basically, “this can’t be on library shelves, because a kid could somehow find it.” But that’s something to which this understandably exasperated librarian in Louisiana has a pretty good response.

I have parents who want these books out of the library because they don’t want adults to have access, because what if my child goes in the adult section? If your child is in the library by itself, or their self, sorry, they probably have a phone, in which case, my library is the least of your problems.

JOHN: Right. This entire debate basically ends the second you remember the existence of the Internet. If your child has a phone, they already have access to the most sexualized images you could imagine, by which I of course mean, this uppercase b taking l on a one-way trip to pound town like they’re the last two letters trying to start a new alphabet. And look, thankfully, not all these challenges are successful. That mom’s efforts to get Let’s Talk About It restricted at her local library failed. But in many places, even if that happens, the fight isn’t over. Because these groups will then campaign to replace members of library boards– sometimes doing so with wildly misleading claims, like in this ad, endorsing two conservative board candidates.

Hi, mom! I’m home!

Hi, honey! I’m in the kitchen! How are you today? How was school?

We went to the library today and there’s a special room for kids and this funny lady, she read us a book and she showed us all the pictures in the book. Mommy?

Yes, honey?

What’s anal sex?

JOHN: Okay. There’s lots wrong with that, including that no kid hears the words “anal sex” and then is like “I’m gonna ask my mom about that later.” No way, you go to your friend with the oldest older sister and sit with her the whole. Bus ride. Home. Also, it’s not important, but: where the fuck was she going with that dish? I’m not trying to Monday-morning-quarterback her process, everything else about her dishwashing is totally normal, you get dressed in your regular chores outfit– no gloves and a spotless sundress, check and check, then wash dishes without any soap. That all makes sense. But why would she hold a soaking wet, unsoaped dish instead of putting it back in the sink? You gonna put it away? It’s too wet for that. Is it headed for a drying rack? If so, why would it be so far away from the sink? Move your glass with one flower out of there and put a drying rack in its place, you dopey freak. But the thing is, the two candidates that ad was supporting won. And who’s on the library board matters. In Campbell County, Wyoming, the library system’s executive director refused to remove seventeen books centered around the experiences of lgbtq+ people. And I’ll note: not one of the requests to remove the books had come from a parent whose child looked at, or checked out, a book their parent thought was inappropriate. Not one. And while the library board initially backed her, the county commission then quickly appointed four new members to the board, who then moved to fire her. Although before the vote, they did get this impassioned speech from a local resident.

When you start outlawing books because of your personal religious and moral beliefs, in this country, you’re going against the constitution, you’re– you’re going against what we were founded for. And you’re personally an affront to myself and most of the people I know. This is a shitshow. And I’m embarrassed for this board. Thank you.

[Cheers and applause]

JOHN: Wow. I have to say, usually when you see a white guy with a bushy mustache holding a microphone at a town meeting, you get worried. But he proved my expectations wrong. Kudos to you, guy-i’d-otherwise-assume-stormed the Capitol. But for all the support the argument to defend the library director got in the room, just a little later, the board did this.

I make a motion to vote for Terri Lesley’s position to be terminated as the Campbell County public library director.

All in favor.


There you have it.

JOHN: Yeah, they fired her. And for what it’s worth, you shouldn’t be allowed to fire someone while wearing this dumb of a hat. That was bought on a beach day in Cabo, you screamed “how much por favor?” And “how much dinero?” And the guy claimed he was giving you a deal while charging you double. And you were like, “gracias, I’m gonna wear this to the meeting where I fire a librarian despite public opposition… The Cabo hat I got for “muy caro, pendeja”. That means on sale!” The point is, these groups have all sorts of levers they can pull. And if all else fails, they can even try and cut the library’s funding altogether. In Jamestown Michigan, community members voted to defund a library after an intense campaign by residents who accused it of “grooming” children and “promoting an lgbtq ideology” despite the fact that of roughly 67,000 items in the library’s collection, only around 90 of them had lgbtq themes. Yet that vote eliminated 84% of their annual budget. So, naturally, the library was immediately under threat of closing. And at a board meeting afterward, one librarian pointed out this was a natural consequence of voters’ actions.

I am shocked that the people are surprised that the library will close. You can’t vote to eliminate funding for the library and say you don’t want it to close. You can’t say you’re doing it just to send a message and not expect there to be consequences to your actions. It’s not a symbolic move. It’s a death sentence. And I hope the community is prepared to live with that.

JOHN: Exactly, why wouldn’t the library close if most of its funding is cut? Any establishment– whether it’s a business or a government service– needs money to operate. If you don’t believe me, just visit your local circuit city and ask them to explain it to you. Now, thankfully, last November there was a vote to restore that library’s funding through next year, and it passed comfortably. And that’s the thing here– protecting libraries is a fight, but it’s also winnable. It just means standing up to these bullshit attacks wherever they occur. And they’re occurring a lot. This year alone, more than 100 bills have been introduced in state legislatures intended to ban or restrict material in school and public libraries. Some of which are bonkers. Just last week, the Alabama House advanced a bill allowing librarians to be arrested for the content they allow on shelves. And Arkansas and Oklahoma have already passed laws to make it possible to prosecute librarians for distributing obscene content. This is all madness, and it speaks to the need for libraries to be defended. And I know it’s not shocking that an episode of this show would advocate to “support your local libraries.” It’s pretty much implicit in our whole vibe. My suit, glasses and desk all practically scream “support your local libraries,” to which the rest of my body would say, out of respect, “a’shush.” But depending on where you live, you might need to pay attention if people start showing up at your local library board meeting and reading ear-catching parts of young adult books. Because while it’s understandable for parent’s right to have a say in what their kids can check out from the library, it’s not their right to have a say in what can be checked out at all. And it frankly doesn’t feel like a coincidence so much of this conversation concerns lgbtq themes– as it seems this is the latest way to try and push that community out of public spaces, to send a message that their lives and stories aren’t welcome, and by extension, to tell anyone growing up questioning that the answers are off-limits to them. All of which is basically just a long way of saying: libraries badly need our support right now, so they can continue to serve the diverse needs of their communities, while also, of course, lending out air fryers, seeds, and copies of The Berensteam Cheetahs. We all loved those books as kids. Oh, before we go tonight, and in case there are any Booklook-type organizations doing a report on this show, I’ll save you the trouble and do the chart myself. Ten “fucks,” three “shits,” three “dicks,” and three “cocks.” Fuck off, Booklooks. Oh look! I just made it eleven.

That’s our show, thanks so much for watching, now, if you’ll excuse me, I have something I badly need to return before midnight. Good night!

[Cheers and applause]

♪ ♪


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