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With big Capitol debate looming, Idaho librarians hope this ‘Little Book’ helps tell their true story.

Dr. Jenny Emery Davidson is executi9ve director of The Community Library in Ketchum.
George Prentice
Dr. Jenny Emery Davidson is executi9ve director of The Community Library in Ketchum.

They’re calling it a “little book.” More specifically, it’s titled “A Little Book of Big Stories: An Idaho Library Book." And librarians from across Idaho spent their Martin Luther King Jr. Day distributing copies to the office of every Idaho legislator.

The book is, as promised, a compilation of essays from people across Idaho, writing about the importance of their public libraries … and their opposition to efforts to restrict what librarians put on the shelves.

“Libraries around the state already have policies and procedures that encourage parental involvement, that encourage librarian involvement, to help people to make informed choices, that are built around respecting the fact that thoughtful, caring, smart people can make different choices based on their life situation, based on how they know themselves or their family members,” said Dr. Jenny Emery Davidson, executive director of Ketchum’s Community Library. “Not everyone chooses the same, but libraries are safe, informed places with oversight already built into them at the local level.”

While visiting the Capitol, Emery Davidson sat down with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about the “little” book’s historic inspiration, and how she says “manufactured narratives” are driving some of the current debates about what goes on public library shelves.

“We want people to put their energy towards celebrating what libraries are doing well currently, rather than following manufactured narratives about problems that do not exist.”
Dr. Jenny Emery Davidson

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: What's the genesis of this book?

JENNY EMERY DAVIDSON: Two things: we have been thinking for quite a while over the last couple of years, and especially over the last few months, about how we can amplify the many, many thousands… and hundreds of thousands of stories that come through Idaho library doors every year. I think we…

PRENTICE: We?

EMERY DAVIDSON: We… meaning people who work at, volunteer at, depend on and use libraries around the state. I'm speaking from the Community Library in Ketchum's point of view, particularly.

PRENTICE: Can I pause you there for a second? Because the story of the Community Library for folks outside of Ketchum is still a bit of a surprise… in that you are totally 100% supported outside and away from government money or government funding, correct?

EMERY DAVIDSON: Correct. So the Community Library was founded in 1955 by 17 women who… they felt like for the Ketchum, Sun Valley, Central Idaho community… to really be a community, it needed educational and cultural centers of gravity. And they thought a library is really what embodies that… a library that is free and open to all. And this was on the heels of the McCarthy Era. These were women who had come to the West. They were adventurous women, independent women, and they cared about the strength and resiliency of their community.

PRENTICE: And look at where you are in 2024. You are in a…I don't know if “comfortable” is the right word… but you're in a unique space where you are not beholden to governmental oversight or control, right?

EMERY DAVIDSON: The Community Library obtains its operating funds through revenue from a thrift store. So the recycling of goods, the Gold Mine Thrift Store… and through private donations.

PRENTICE: So, when a measure is introduced and/or passed in this building… here in the Capitol…that controls libraries or changes libraries…

EMERY DAVIDSON: We feel scared, honestly.

PRENTICE: But hold on. Would you be subject to it?

EMERY DAVIDSON: Because there is so much ambiguity around the legislation that has been proposed, it is difficult for me to answer that with certainty.

PRENTICE: Are you having those conversations?

EMERY DAVIDSON: We are having those conversations… and we certainly feel ourselves to be a part of a larger ecosystem of libraries around the state. And so, we feel responsible to speak up for all of our library neighbors and associates around the state.

PRENTICE: A few of them are… I'll just say it…they're scared to speak up.

EMERY DAVIDSON: Yes, yes, yes. And there are so many wonderful stories to share. And that is what we really want to get out there: the story of Idaho libraries is a story of joy. It is a story of people feeling a sense of belonging. It is a story of people feeling like they are known and seen within their communities. It ranges from the simplest things of having a place to hold a meeting for the local cemetery district, or for a local veterans; group to… of course, story time, which is one of those seminal experiences, not only for children but for parents who bring their children to story time and feel a sense of togetherness with other parents in the community.

PRENTICE: Can I tell you that just before we started talking, a gentleman approached me here. Just a strange…just walked up to me and said, “Are you a reporter?” And I said, yes. And he said, “What do you think about the pornography in schools and libraries?” And I said, well, it's not up to me to No. 1, , share what I think. But he is convinced that there is a fair amount of pornography in libraries and schools. And so… he's not alone. What would you tell someone like him?

EMERY DAVIDSON: I think that is a misinformed narrative. And that is what we are hoping to do with this particular project, and in other ways too, is to educate people about how libraries actually work. So, what we have done to that end, George, is we took inspiration from the Armed Services editions that were published during World War II. There was this deep desire on the part of people back home to reach out to and offer comfort and support to the soldiers serving overseas. So, they decided what was going to be most efficient and effective would be to publish books that were designed specifically to fit into a soldier's pocket. And I have one here that's from the Community Libraries archive. So…you can see it's maybe, what, 3.5in tall, 4 to 5in long.

The U.S. government distributed pocket-sizedbooks to military personnel during World War II.
George Prentice
The U.S. government distributed pocket-sizedbooks to military personnel during World War II.

PRENTICE: This is The Great Gatsby.

EMERY DAVIDSON: This is The Great Gatsby. There are more than 1,300 titles. It could fit into your back pocket. And that was exactly the point. And so the War Department collaborated with these other private entities to swiftly print these books in huge numbers. They ultimately printed and distributed more than 120 million copies. And the response of the soldiers was one of overwhelming gratitude. And of course, this is happening in stark contrast to Nazis in Germany were burning books by the millions in an effort to limit and control what people can think. America responded in the opposite way, giving people more to read, more to think about recognizing that we can trust individuals to… and we depend on individuals to… exercise independent thought.

PRENTICE: But at the height of today’s debate is access for children. And we could have conversations about eight-year-olds versus 18-year-olds and in-between. But what's the truth as far as oversight?

EMERY DAVIDSON: Libraries are deeply responsible institutions, and they are accountable to the communities and very responsive to the communities they serve. Libraries around the state already have policies and procedures that encourage parental involvement, that encourage librarian involvement, to help people to make informed choices, and that are built around respecting the fact that thoughtful, caring, smart people can make different choices based on their life situation, based on how they know themselves or their family members. Not everyone chooses the same, but libraries are safe, informed places with oversight already built into them at the local level.

PRENTICE: Do parents and guardians have the final say?

EMERY DAVIDSON: We hope so…f they come to the library with their children and are involved in their children's reading.

PRENTICE: Okay, “A Little Book of Big Stories in Idaho: Library Book Voices from Around the State.” And this is a 2024 product.

The Community Library

EMERY DAVIDSON: It is hot off the press, George. So, as I was saying previously, we modeled this book. We took our inspiration from these Armed services editions that were published during World War II. So, you can see this is about the same size. The graphic design is very similar pocket-size. We really wanted to honor that spirit of intellectual freedom and taking comfort in books and reading as a form of patriotism that was demonstrated so vividly by those little editions published during World War II. And what we've collected here are testimonials from libraries around the state, from Craigmont to Downey to Kuna to Mountain Home, Moscow… all over the state… Sandpoint. And what they describe are safe environments where people feel respected, whoever they are, where people feel like they can belong, where they can make thoughtful choices for themselves and for their family members. In fact, I think the words that are used most across nearly 100 testimonials are Safe…Belonging… Love… and Gratitude. These are not systems that are in need of more bureaucratic involvement. These are not broken systems. These are systems that are already essential to the social fabric of their communities. And we do not want to risk tearing that.

PRENTICE: You're at the Capitol for a reason: to distribute this and put this in the hands of lawmakers and gate-keepers. So, you hand this to someone… or you try to hand it to someone… but what's your elevator speech? What's your story? What do you say?

EMERY DAVIDSON: We want people to put their energy towards celebrating what libraries are doing well currently, rather than following manufactured narratives about problems that do not exist.

PRENTICE: Do you have a sense if this is coming from elsewhere? The effort to restrict? Is it your sense that that's coming from outside of Idaho?

EMERY DAVIDSON: Yes. It is not coming from the hundreds of thousands of people who use and depend on their libraries every day.

PRENTICE: The session has just begun. Will your colleagues and/or representatives of your effort be here to testify?

EMERY DAVIDSON:  As quiet as libraries are known to be, we want to be loud this legislative season in amplifying the voices of the many, many Idahoans who trust… who depend on… their libraries currently…who do not need them to be made broken by unnecessary legislation. And we will be happy to continue to offer true testimonials and education as long as is necessary.

PRENTICE: Okay. Great good luck.

EMERY DAVIDSON: Thank you. George.

Find reporter George Prentice@georgepren

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