Earlier this year, whilst perusing the religious section shelves of my local public library, I was struck by the complete lack of books speaking positively on the subject of atheism. I decided to troll the computer system of San Bernardino County to see if any of their other branches held atheistic material. They did! Two books were listed, and an old Madalyn O'Hair pamphlet in a nearby main library. After traveling to that library and locating the books I quickly determined that both were angry, religionist rantings critical of atheism, one of which was subtitled, hilariously, something like "All the Answers to Moscow Atheists." Ms. O'Hair's tract had apparently disappeared. What was in evidence, just as in my local library, was a bountiful supply of godist fiction of as many persuasions as could be imagined. I decided that it was time to moan.
Since I had at hand the library's mission statement that gave a confident account of how unbiased, fair and even-handed the San Bernardino system is, I walked toward the head librarian's desk. The woman whom I approached was clearly aghast when I asked simply, "Why are there no books on atheism in the library?" She located the books I had just found, and when I pointed out that these books were not offering a positive account of nonbelief, she mumbled things about supply and demand and budget cuts, but promised to mention it to the head office in that insincere manner so familiar to government types. I walked away determined to push the issue further.
I ordered a copy of American Infidel: Robert G. Ingersoll by Prof. Orvin Larsen from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. When it arrived I sauntered down to my local library and presented it as a gift. The young man who took the book assured me that he would send it to the board for approval. I left feeling that a small step had been taken to improve the imbalance.
A week passed and I returned, hoping to find my donation proudly mounted upon the shelf. Sadly that was not to be. Eventually I did locate my present to my community, and indeed, it was in the library. In the bargain bin for 25 cents.
The person in charge, a stone-faced woman, listened to my contention that the religious section of the library was an unbalanced, biased offering, not in keeping with the library's mission statement. And why the blazes was my donation in the bargain bin?
Her answers were trite, and I could tell she did not like the challenge. American Infidel was out of print, she irrationally argued, and anyway, lots of religious books do not receive approval for display, even--shock, horror--the work of a local Christian author!
Back at the ranch I fired up the trusty 386 and began a written appeal to the unknown person in charge of book selections within the county system. I say unknown, because several phone calls led to much passing of the proverbial buck, by the various voices I contacted once they became aware that I was on a mission to deny god(s). Many weeks passed. It must have been at least a month. No response to my written appeal was forthcoming.
One day over a bowl of All-Bran I flipped. I called town hall and asked for the name of the person in charge of the library system. I never did connect with him, but was rewarded by a conversation with the person in charge of book selection. I gave her a speech which, if I might venture modestly, was almost Churchillian. I read her the library's meaningless mission statement and pleaded with her for some balance of information regarding articles of religious faith. Although she did not acknowledge having read my earlier letter she promised to pursue the issue. I hung up the phone expecting the inaction of hollow words with which I had become familiar.
To my enormous surprise, several days after my phone call, a letter arrived. It was from the woman in charge of book selection. She informed me that upon her personal inspection of the systems holdings it had been determined that San Bernardino County Library was indeed in need of books speaking positively on atheism! . . . Sixteen of them, to be precise! Including Dan Barker's Losing Faith In Faith that I had recommended. After reading the letter seven or eight times over, I yelled Hallelujah!
I made a call and faxed the letter to the Foundation, wanting to share my small victory with them. I am very proud of my little local accomplishment in the name of freethought. Challenging the behemoth of religious blight in America can often be a very thankless and discouraging affair, but on occasion tiny victories like mine work to remind society that not everyone in this nation has abdicated their critical thinking, ethics and morality to mythology.
Shannon Cream is a Foundation member living in California. By the way, a Foundation member and patron of the San Bernardino County Library recently donated a copy of the Foundation's latest book, Women Without Superstition: No Gods - No Masters, to that library system.