Poor little Johnny. He would have become a lifelong reader, scaling the heights of Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky. But no. His local school library didn’t have any more graphic novels or manga for him to read. So he lost interest in the printed word. Now he bags groceries for a living.
Such a story might sound patently ridiculous, but that’s exactly what the leftist corporate media want you to think about recent changes in our nation’s libraries. “Schools are struggling to keep their shelves stocked as oversight by parents and school boards intensifies,” says a recent front-page article in The Washington Post. Author Hannah Natanson claims that libraries in Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas, and elsewhere are purchasing thousands fewer books, and those innocent students — all of them voracious readers in training — are caught in the middle.
Indeed, if legacy media are to be believed, America is facing a plague of censorship that is soon to rival that described in “Fahrenheit 451.”
“As Book Bans Soar, Students Are Joining the Fight Against Censorship,” declared a Connecticut NBC affiliate. “Facing pressure to ban books, suburban libraries’ becoming a battlefield for the First Amendment,’” reported the Chicago Sun-Times. “Let libraries be libraries, without political meddling,” urged the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Yet scratch the surface of this scaremongering narrative, and you’ll perceive that these claims are not only overblown but deeply misrepresentative of broader trends regarding children’s literacy in the United States.
Do Anime And Manga Inspire More Reading?
“Hurdles to book ordering have emerged across the country,” reported WaPo. It cites a school librarian in Florida’s Monroe County who has not been allowed to purchase books since last year, who said that her district had seen decreased student interest in and demand for books. Circulation is down “dramatically,” she claimed while providing WaPo with a list of books requested by students that she has not been able to order. The list includes, among other titles, “Dragon Ball, “Dragon Ball Z,” “Pokemon Adventures,” and a long list of various Japanese neo-noir science fiction anime and manga such as “Cowboy Bebop” and “Zom 100.”
The report also quotes John Chrastka, head of the library political action committee EveryLibrary, who warned that hindering librarians’ ability to purchase books would dampen students’ enthusiasm for reading. “We know very clearly from the research that a key driver for individual reading success is self-directed reading when kids pick up a fun new book that interests them.” Brooklyn school librarian Ciro Scardina warned: “No one is going to want to visit the library.”
Forgive me if I’m a bit skeptical that students today demanding anime and manga are tomorrow’s readers of Faulkner, Austen, or Shakespeare. As much as experts say comics can serve as a gateway to more complex reading, the data does not look good: The percentage of adult Americans reading literature has been declining for decades, as has general book reading across all ages and education levels. “Kids’ reading rates have been plummeting for years. … The data goes back many years,” says Mark Bauerlein, author of “The Dumbest Generation” and “The Dumbest Generation Grows Up” and emeritus professor of literature at Emory.
“They don’t move from Pokemon to great literature,” he says. “They go from Pokemon to cartoons and video games, the visual. They want pictures; they’re not going to like pages that are all print.”
Moreover, pace Scardina’s warning, no one has been visiting libraries for decades. Only 7 percent of Americans visit a library weekly, while almost 60 percent seldom or never visit their local public library. Use of libraries in America has declined by about a third in just the last decade. This is unsurprising, given the general decline of American readers.
Libraries Are Proud Purveyors of Leftism
Warnings of increased oversight of our nation’s libraries also elide the well-documented fact that libraries are now bastions of leftist ideology. “Librarians are all left-wingers. You’ve got a lot of purple-haired cat women,” observes Bauerlein.
James Panero, executive editor of the New Criterion, has bemoaned the politicization of American libraries by librarians and local officials, turning them into engines of social justice praxis and removing thousands of books and stacks in favor of computer areas and meeting rooms for community space. In 2021 the American Library Association (ALA) published its “Resolution to Condemn White Supremacy and Fascism as Antithetical to Library Work,” claiming that “libraries have upheld and encouraged white supremacy both actively through discriminatory practices and passively through a misplaced emphasis on neutrality.”
Every June, my local library, one of many in Fairfax County, pulls out all the stops to celebrate Pride Month. Guess how many copies of Abigail Shrier’s best-selling “Irreversible Damage,” which discusses the damage of transgenderism to young girls, the entire library system possesses. One, in Spanish. There are only five copies of Ryan T. Anderson’s “When Harry Became Sally,” also about transgenderism. There are, by comparison, 16 copies of “Gender Queer,” and 17 copies of “Lawn Boy,” two highly controversial LGBT books for adolescents.
Moreover, the ALA puts out local packages for local public libraries for how to organize and market drag queen story hours. As I cataloged in a recent piece for The Federalist, this politicization often happens despite protests from local residents.
Tech Addiction, Curriculum Are Real Culprits
The decline in young readers is indeed a sad story, but the blame does not lie with parents and school boards exerting more oversight over radical ideologues with library science degrees. The trend has a much older origin. Bauerlein notes that part of the problem comes from technological addiction stemming from cell phone use, but also the curricular deterioration of literature in junior school and high school. He adds, citing his recent piece in American Greatness:
The curriculum has gone into media, media literacy, critical thinking schools; the old canon of literature, all those dead white males, that’s out. You’re telling them that literature is not that important. We just want you to have good reading comprehension skills … And, one of the sad things is that English teachers are not that well read.
Libraries, like other once-venerable institutions of American civilization, such as the news media and the academy, have become intolerant, leftist echo chambers. That librarians are proposing that lack of access to anime and manga is to blame for declining literacy shows how delusional they have become.
Bauerlein asks, “Is the argument for LGBTQ stuff in the schools so feeble that you have to invent this notion that ‘well if Pokemon is not there, the kids won’t read.’ Are you that desperate for proof or evidence that you can make such a ridiculous and flimsy rationale?” Apparently, leftists are.