Drag Queen story hour is actually not the worst part about public libraries these days. The worst part is that these days you can’t actually take your kids to the library and simply let them check out books on their own. So what to do?

The intra-conservative battle over liberal institutions and their relation to liberalism, classical and otherwise, got a little hotter when Sohrab Ahmari tweeted about a drag queen story hour in Sacramento: “If you can’t see why children belong nowhere near drag, with its currents of transvestic fetishism, we have nothing to say to each other. We are irreconcilably opposed. There’s no polite, David French-ian third way around the cultural civil war. The only way is through.” Dr. French was somewhat surprised that in a debate at Catholic University Dr. Ahmari kept returning to this phenomenon of drag queens at the library in a later debate at the Catholic University of America, suggesting that the answer might be local bans on the practice. Dr. French’s argument was that to instantiate this kind of ban is not only unlikely, but could lead to a further evisceration of free speech that would eliminate the access of religious groups to public libraries and schools.[1]

I can’t adjudicate the questions about how to get rid of drag queen story hour, but I will say that it is actually not the worst part about public libraries these days. The worst part is that these days you can’t actually take your kids to the library and simply let them check out books on their own. What we’ve found over the last few years is that the number of books, videos, and other kinds of material that are promoting the view of the human person and sexuality represented by drag queen story hour has grown quite a bit. And it’s not simply material in the YA or Young Adult section—it’s the kids’ section. Some of them are quite explicit about what they’re going for, but many of them bury their themes more than half-way through the books, such that one has to read through almost the whole book to find out whether they are going to be dealing with bisexuality, as one recent book one of our children checked out did.

Sure, one can complain, as my wife did about that book. But it sometimes seems to do no good at all. The librarian assured her that the children’s specialist carefully selects books according to rigorous criteria. Oh, good, said my wife. What are those? The librarian still hasn’t gotten back to us. We and some of our friends have taken to going to the library a lot less often since it takes longer to figure out what’s acceptable for our kids to check out.

So what to do? We want our children to love books and libraries, but we do not want a library attempting to convert our children to the gods, usually sexual, of this age. A number of people have noted that creating a new library takes a lot of infrastructure and investment. How can we recreate this structure in any feasible way?

This is what some friends and I were pondering a couple weeks ago. I mentioned reading a blog post by Rod Dreher in which he commented that it is difficult to set up an alternative library system. Was he right? Wouldn’t this involve buying a building, renovating the space, and getting shelves and all new books? Such a procedure would be feasible but quite expensive and time-consuming. Then we realized that there is a way around this that might take advantage of one of the depressing aspects of our age: the closing of Catholic elementary schools. Those elementary schools have the right kind of space and, if they have closed recently, they usually have book shelves and often a decent collection of books already in place. (Though given the fetish for following their secular betters so evident in too many parochial schools, it’s probably a good idea to go through any collection.)

What we propose to do is raise a bit of money to clean up the space, add some books (via donations and purchases), and pay for maintenance of the facility. Our idea is that perhaps we could get volunteers to staff the library at first, paying some experts who might be able to advise us on the best way to operate and set up such an institution. And then when we open, our library—which one gentleman suggested should be called the Twin Cities Library Guild—would charge a membership fee. We thought that perhaps one hundred dollars per family per year for membership would work, though that could be waived in cases of need. After all, if you want people to invest in a place, they are more likely to do it if they have financially invested in it. Though our ad hoc committee is Catholic and is thinking about using Catholic resources right now, we know that many Protestants, Orthodox Christians, and people of other faiths and perhaps none may have an interest in having a space that both protects and feeds the imaginations and hearts of their children.

That’s the plan as it came about over coffee and donuts. Our goal, then, is to draw it up a bit more formally and then approach the pastors of some local closed Catholic schools. My question for you, dear readers, is what you think of such an idea. The benefit of writing for a publication such as The Imaginative Conservative is that the readers are interested in both sides of the title. Many of you have experience in your own institutions. Lend us your experience and your imaginations. Have you tried this? What does my ad hoc committee have wrong? What are we not thinking about? What might help us in setting up such an institution?

It is said that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. But the hand that stocks the library shelves has a powerful role as well. While we may not be able to solve the problems of the public library system, we may be able to provide an alternative.

So what do you think?

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[1] French, David. “Viewpoint Neutrality Protects Both Drag Queens and Millions of American Christians.” National Review, 9 September, 2019.

The featured image is “Bookshelves” (c. 1725) by Giuseppe Crespi (1665-1747), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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