A Librarian’s Complaint

Remember Liz Phipps Soeiro? No? She doesn’t sing or dance. She doesn’t tell jokes on TV. Chances are that outside of a room in a school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, no one knew the name. Now they do.

Dear Mrs. Trump,

Thank you for the ten Dr. Seuss titles that you sent my school library in recognition of this year’s National Read a Book Day. (Sent second-day air, no less! That must have been expensive.)

This was the start of an “open letter” published at The Horn Book, a site for children’s books. Someone sent ten Dr. Seuss books in Melania Trump’s name to Soeiro for her school’s library, and she responded by lecturing and chastising the First Lady for the gift. Sent second-day air, no less!

I’m proud that you recognized my school as something special. It truly is. Our beautiful and diverse student body is made up of children from all over the world; from different socioeconomic statuses; with a spectrum of gender expressions and identities; with a range of abilities; and of varied racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds.

That’s nice, though I wonder how many “gender expressions and identities” there actually are in her elementary library. Then again, it is home to the second best engineering school in all of Cambridge. The little children of Harvard may very well be more finely attuned to their gender expressions than others, whether they like it or not.

But the books weren’t sent to Soeiro, but to the students. The transmittal letter says “dear students,” and they were sent, after all, for National Read a Book Day, not National Extol Some Unknown Librarian’s Social Justice Politics Day By Lecturing The First Lady Day.

Soeiro rejects the gift. It’s doubtful she has the authority to do so, and similarly likely that she’s acted unlawfully, as these books weren’t hers to be rid of, but school district property. Of course, this may all be a lie, since this isn’t really about the books at all, but about seizing the opportunity to lecture the ignorant Melania about social justice.

Or is it about the dreaded Dr. Seuss books?

So, my school doesn’t have a NEED for these books. And then there’s the matter of the books themselves. You may not be aware of this, but Dr. Seuss is a bit of a cliché, a tired and worn ambassador for children’s literature.

Another fact that many people are unaware of is that Dr. Seuss’s illustrations are steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes.

Don’t bother pointing out Michelle Obama’s love of Dr. Seuss, or President Obama’s extolling Theodor Geisel’s work in his National Reading Day 2016. It misses the point. The point is that nothing done by this administration, not even the gift of some books, doesn’t serve as an opportunity to condemn them. Stupid. Evil. Venal. Horrible. The perfect launching pad for an elementary school librarian to virtue signal to her tribe (remember, this wasn’t a letter sent to Melania Trump, but an open letter published where other woke librarians could kvell over it) her dedication to social justice.

The comments to the open letter are divided between those who adore how Soeiro spoke “truth to power” and condemn her smug lack of grace. There were two follow-up posts, one a bizarre “Miss Manners” thing, chastising those commenters who chastised Soeiro for not simply saying “thank you” and regifting the books to a more needy library.

To all who are concerned about manners, common courtesy, rudeness, gratitude, and how our contributor was or wasn’t raised: the letter is far more courteous than many of the negative comments directed at her on this site, on Facebook, and on Twitter. How can you harangue someone for bad manners and then call that person a “sorry excuse for a human” in the same sentence? She opens the letter with thank you, for cripes’ sake. We take her at her word that she’s sincere in her gratitude. She ends the post by saying how honored she is that the White House chose to recognize her school’s success. She doesn’t like the administration’s policies, but she makes zero reference to the content of Mrs. T’s character.

And then the editor-in-chief explains:

Jeez, we didn’t get into any trouble at all the last time we criticized a First Lady, but clearly times have changed. I wanted to state that I am very proud that the Horn Book published Liz Phipps Soeiro’s open letter to Melania Trump. It was polite, constructive, informative, and well-reasoned. Not so for all the comments that have been piling on; I’ve had enough of those and so have turned the comments off. I’ll do the same here if I have to*.

*And I’ve had to…

That Soeiro, not a household name, has managed to turn a benign, if not kind, gesture into a social justice opportunity is one thing. That this site supports her doing so is another. But this crowd, librarians, aren’t exactly deplorables. These aren’t likely racists and white supremacists. They aren’t being manipulated by Russian bots or ad-buys on Facebook, fake news sites about child sex rings at pizza parlors.

One of the recurring aspects of the negative comments to Soeiro’s open letter, and the post-letter rationalization, is that these are not Trump supporters. But what they are also not is social justice warriors, rude people or people so deranged that they can’t see the gift of books as the most outrageous, offensive, horrible thing ever.

If the desperate need for social justice demands that a librarian reject a gift of books, then not even the educated, knowledgeable, sympathetic fellow(?) librarians can tolerate the cause. As for Dr. Seuss being racist, get a life. Much as the complaints about the Trump presidency are shared by many, so too are the complaints about social justice warriors as the alternative.

Soeiro isn’t an important person. She’s a librarian with a passionate sense of social justice who seized an opportunity to virtue signal to her tribe by lecturing the First Lady, and by doing so, thrust herself into her 15-minute spotlight. Perhaps she viewed this as speaking truth to power. Others don’t share her truth. The spotlight showed them that they no more want people like Soeiro to make decisions on their behalf than they do Trump. As Ian Tuttle wrote:

I do not like these slippery slopes.
I do not like this librarian dope.
I do not like this brain-dead hive.
What a stupid time to be alive.

28 thoughts on “A Librarian’s Complaint

  1. David

    As a librarian, I’d like to point out that it almost certainly is within her job duties to accept or reject any book donations to the library. Whether they are addressed to the students, the library or the librarian, it is the librarian’s job to maintain the collection in the manner they see fit.

    Also, as a librarian, I think her response was childish and asinine. To me, the proper response would have been to write a thank you letter (privately, not publicly) explaining that while the gift was appreciated, the wealthier school did not need them and they would be passed along to a needier school. One could even include a note about Dr. Seuss if they really felt that strongly. But to make a spectacle of yourself rejecting the books goes against my whole notion of how librarians operate and work to serve their communities.

    1. SHG Post author

      There are two separate things involved with donations. As librarian, she probably is in charge of maintaining the book collection, and it’s possible, even likely, that the Board of Education has deferred its authority to her to decide whether to accept book donations. Whether that deference is unlimited such that it would include a donation by the First Lady is unknown. As these books have a value distinct from their cost as books, her disposal may well be unlawful and beyond the usual librarian deference.

      But she is also a public employee, and public employees do not, in general, have the authority to to dispose of public property at will. The property isn’t theirs, but the public’s.

  2. Beth

    I’m a former elementary school librarian. I thought this was petty and uncalled for.
    You’re never obligated to accept a gift. But even small children are taught to say thank you and at least pretend to be gracious.
    Hatred of anything Trumo related has turned people into assholes for no other reason than being assholes.

  3. the other rob

    As I remarked to SWMBO, if Trump walked on water there would be calls for his arrest for jaywalking. It’s idiotic and I’m sick of it.

    Incidentally, the First Amendment and Boobs guy has found a tweet, sent by this same librarian, in which she is dressed as that racist caricature, the cat in the hat. Apparently she forgot about that, or didn’t care. The latter is more scary.

    1. SHG Post author

      I deleted the link. I was aware of the pic and even twitted it yesterday, but chose not to include it in this post as it’s not about her as an individual (gee whiz, another hypocrite!!!), but as a reflection of a cause gone insane. She’s not important. She’s just representative. And hypocrisy is everywhere, so hers is no better or worse than anyone else’s.

      As for walking on water, LBJ had a great quote:

      If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: ‘President Can’t Swim.’

      1. the other rob

        Can’t argue with that and you’re bang on about the insanity.

        But imagine my chagrin at being not only beaten to the punch but also outclassed by LBJ.

  4. RAFIV

    The internet is a dangerous tool for fools. Behold, but pay no attention to the librarian in the Cat in the Hat costume. But then again, that was back in the halcyon and far off days the Obama Administration. You know, 2015. {Eye roll}

  5. wilbur

    I’ve seen this topic at a couple of other sites. The one point that I did not see there, and I missed too: “But the books weren’t sent to Soeiro, but to the students. … Soeiro rejects the gift. It’s doubtful she has the authority to do so, and similarly likely that she’s acted unlawfully, as these books weren’t hers to be rid of, but school district property. ” A good attorney would have advised her to handle it in some other fashion.

    But these books are a nail, so she has to swing her hammer. I can’t expect someone like her to act anything other than what you accurately wrote she is.

  6. Rojas

    “Cambridge, Massachusetts, is an amazing city with robust social programming,….”
    Madame librarian

  7. Elpey P.

    I had no idea Melania was so good at jujitsu. She should follow up with a donation of “A Boy Named FDR.” I hear he did more than just draw caricatures.

  8. Fubar

    There once was a children’s librarian
    With political views quite sectarian.
    The First Lady sent books.
    She sent back dirty looks,
    And a rant so complex it’s Wagnerian!

      1. Fubar

        Her rant might sound better in German.
        That’s for Wagner, not me, to determine.
        In my headpiece, a colander,
        Der fliegende Holländer
        Sounds fitting. Thus endeth my sermon!

  9. B. McLeod

    The woman is unhinged. Seuss was conspicuously anti-racist, as illustrated by the Sneetches, anti-totalitarian (Yertle the Turtle) and also against shouting down non-conforming opinions (Horton Hears a Who). He also recognized the silliness of uncompromising dogmatics (the north-going and south-going Zax). Maybe it is these very works that offend the batshit crazy “librarian.”

  10. Adam

    To be a bit contrarian: the “dr seuss was racist” complaint is not entirely without merit. His political cartoons during ww2 used a consistent racialist iconography for japanese; see:

    [Ed. Note: Link deleted per rules.]

    Interestingly, in the same cartoon space at around the same time he was also pretty critical of racism against good all-american blacks and jews:

    [Ed. Note: More links deleted, same rule.]

    Geisel was an endlessly fascinating character himself (as well as a fabulous cartoonist; I’d argue the artistic merit of each of these cartoons, even if I disagree with the concept of the first) and neither the hagiography nor revisionist SJW damnation do the man proper justice.

      1. Adam

        He made 14 comics using that racial caricature between June 13 1941 and Dec 5th 1941, before war was declared between the United States and Japan.

        1. B. McLeod

          Right, right, at a time when we were just trying to provoke a war with Japan. But Seuss might have cared more about the wholesale massacres the Japanese had already committed (and were continuing to commit) in China.

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