I've been buying a lot of e-books for my library lately.
I started about a year ago when I got my eReader. I didn't usually visit the library very often, which was odd because there is one less than 5 minutes from our house. Husband and I would sometimes check out movies and TV shows from there, but I would almost never check out an actual book because I was so afraid of hurting the book somehow. This is not a rational fear; I have books in my personal library that I've owned for decades without blemishing them, but it was a fear I held nevertheless. But then an eReader entered our home, and with it a world of possibilities: e-books from the library!
Not every library has an e-book collection yet, but my library did. And they had a lot of really lovely titles! I spent days combing through the site, marking things on my wish list and borrowing and reading for the sheer joy of it. But I started wanting more: I wanted to check out books the library didn't have, books I knew I wouldn't read more than once, books that I didn't want to buy for my own library to sit fallow on my eReader account for time eternal. I could have bought the paper version of these books and then donated them after reading, but I didn't want that; I wanted to read on my eReader. So I did something that is very hard for my timid-in-Real-Life self to do: I wrote an email.
I dug all over the website for my library and found an email address. I wrote to explain that I'd like to donate money to buy some specific e-books for their catalog. And then I waited. A few days later, a librarian wrote me back with the nicest email I think I've ever gotten. They had been excited to receive my email, she said, and though they had no current infrastructure for an automated donation system, I could send a check and email them my list and they'd work out the details on their end. Almost every month since then, I've sent a check for $100 and a list of about 15 books from which they can usually select 5. (Since I can't view the pricing and availability for libraries on Overdrive, there is a significant amount of juggling involved on their end.)
At first, the lists I sent were pretty innocuous stuff. Classic literature. Fiction. Fantasy. Science fiction. Young adult books. A couple cookbooks, a few crafting books. I tried a little teaspooning: fiction with female protagonists, fiction with minority protagonists, issue fiction. But largely fiction.
Last month when I sat down to write my check and look at my list, I chewed my lip a little. I have a laundry list of atheist and wiccan and pagan non-fiction books I'd like to read. I have biographies of people who have escaped from various cults on my list. I have books on science-in-schools that deal with Intelligent Design in a non-conciliatory manner, books on skepticism, books on mysticism, books that criticize mainstream Christianity, books that simply do not adhere to the mainstream Christian bent that I perceive in my surrounding community. And for the longest time I'd let these books sit quietly on my wish list, uncertain what to do with them.
I don't want to get my library in trouble. I don't want a local outcry about the liberal taint that has infected our library and how TAXES are being used to CORRUPT our children. And, I'll be honest, I didn't want my librarian thinking worse of me for being one of those Horrible People who read Horrible Books. I care about her opinion of me, for no real reason except that that's how I was raised. And I seriously considered just buying these books on my own account and moving on with life.
But I was a kid once in this community. I read books at the library that I otherwise would not have been allowed to read: books with dragons on the cover by Patricia C. Wrede that my mother thought were Satanic, books that challenged my mind and broadened my horizons. And e-books are the newest bastion of free thought for children with computer access and library cards: it's easy to borrow and download a book without your parent ever even knowing. You don't need a car, you don't have to worry about returning the book on time. You just... download and read.
How could I tell an atheist child in my community that I wanted to donate an atheist book but I was afraid of being disliked by the librarian? How could I tell a pagan child that I wanted to donate a book on wicca but I was too timid to even ask? In a burst of guilt, I composed my politely worded little list, sent it off in the mail, and started biting my fingernails for a week.
When my librarian wrote me back to tell me what she'd been able to buy, she was amazingly enthusiastic and supportive. For the first time in this whole year of donations, she actually went over my $100 in order to get 6 books on my list and covered the cost difference with library general funds. She told me that all the books she'd gotten -- books on atheism, wicca, paganism, and cult survival -- had proved immediately popular with the library patrons. When I logged onto the system to add my name to the "holds" list, I was shocked to see that every book had a minimum of four holds on them already in the short time they'd been in the system. I added my name to the holds list. In one case, I was the 7th hold on the book.
I don't know why these books have been so immediately popular. Maybe a huge group of angry fundamentalist Christians are reading about Wicca in order to get good and outraged. I hope not, but it's entirely possible. But I think... or at least, I'd like to think that there's actually a big community of pagan and atheist readers in my area whose relative silence I have always mistaken for absence. I want to believe that they exist, that they're part of the library system with me, that I helped in a very small way to fill a niche that wasn't otherwise being filled.
I'm a solitary wiccan, with no desire or need for a face-space community. I'm happy with my internet friends and comfortable in my broom closet. But possibly my comfort with being alone has meant that I've quietly marginalized myself and people like me to the point where I erroneously believe I'm the only non-Christian in my entire state. I've slowly forgotten that though my state is ultimately red in the Conservative/Liberal binary divide, it's really more accurately described as purple: a little bit of each side, mixing together and trying to make the best of it.
I'm writing another monthly check soon for my library, and I'm feeling a tiny bit braver. I want to write out another non-fiction list, another list of books that I'd like to read and that I refuse to be judged over. Maybe some history books that teach the history that our schools so frequently shy away from. Maybe some fat acceptance books that talk about set point theory and why body shaming is unhelpful and discriminatory. Maybe some feminism 101 books that talk about rape culture and consent and yes-means-yes. Maybe a cookbook that is also a Wiccan cookbook. Maybe a lot of things.
I don't know if anyone else wants to read these things besides me, but I do know that I need to stop assuming that they don't. Because when I do that, when I assume that I'm the only one, I end up silencing myself more effectively than the most vocal of my opponents.