Sally Roesch Wagner is honored to be in the “illustrious” company of the many authors whose books have been hidden by the mysterious Coeur d’Alene Public Library “book bandit.”
For months, that bandit has been randomly reshelving and otherwise concealing books that seemed to oppose the worldview of President Donald Trump or that discussed LGBTQ rights and a woman’s right to vote – books like “Fear” by Bob Woodward and “Hard Choices” by Hillary Clinton.
Also gone missing was Roesch Wagner’s “The Women’s Suffrage Movement.”
Library Director Bette Ammon started to notice a trend as shelvers found the books placed in obscure corners of the library.
The bandit’s behavior has drawn the attention of media near and far. And when Roesch Wagner saw a New York Times article about the library’s mysterious book mover just a few days before she was scheduled to speak at Gonzaga University for its year-long celebration of the centennial of the 19th Amendment’s passage, her curiousity was piqued.
So Roesch Wagner headed to Coeur d’Alene to see what was going on.
“I actually really wanted to go over to the library and visit the librarian, and thank her for holding up the badge of courage and making sure that all viewpoints are represented in the library,” Roesch Wagner said.
The women got to talking about why the suffrage movement was something this person wanted hidden.
“The connective tissue in all of these books is that they all are challenging the status quo in some way,” Roesch Wagner said.
But finding the connection wasn’t enough for Roesch Wagner. She didn’t want to make assumptions – she wanted to know what this person was really thinking. So she hatched a plan.
“I wrote a note to the person that’s hiding the books and said that I would really welcome a conversation with them,” Roesch Wagner said. “It would mean a lot to me to know why they want people not to read my book.”
That note can be found in the library’s copy of Roesch Wagner’s book.
She even promised not to reveal the person’s identity if they reached out to her and had a conversation.
“I mean that very sincerely, of having that conversation and really listening to this person,” Roesch Wagner said. “They’ve obviously gone to a lot of thought and a lot of, really, planning and thinking through what books they find dangerous. And in an odd kind of way, I respect that.”
She hopes to find a human connection with the person hiding the books and to learn about the person’s perspective.
“We’re at such an impasse culturally with ‘us and them’ and demonizing people that think differently than we do. I don’t want to demonize this person. I really want to understand them,” Roesch Wagner said. “I hope I hear from them.”
Working to understand a wide-array of perspectives is something Roesch Wagner has practice doing. In her book, she recognizes indigenous women’s political power and how the American Women’s Suffrage movement had racial undertones.
“Native women have had political voice on this land for 1,000 years at least, while we’re in the United States celebrating 100 years of women having political voice,” Roesch Wagner said. “That in itself says that there’s some people around here who may have something worth listening to.”
The book also criticizes what she considers half-measures, like the American Woman Suffrage Association appealing to white supremacists in the South with the idea that white women outnumbered African Americans and immigrants, Roesch Wagner explained.
“When you don’t work for the good of everybody, you create divisions and those divisions continue today,” Roesch Wagner said.
However, Roesch Wagner was hesitant to link those divisions to the book bandit.
“I wish I knew what the book hiding was an example of,” Roesch Wagner said. “I don’t know what the motive is of the person doing it. It does seem to be targeting things that challenge the status quo, but I’m not sure I can assume much more than that, without having an opportunity to talk to them.”
While no one can say for sure what the book-hider hopes to accomplish, Ammon did share her perspective after not only witnessing the book-hiding but receiving a note from the person last year.
“The message they gave us a year ago (was) that they were trying to protect young people from seeing things that were against the president and obviously on a number of other topics,” Ammon said. “I think that’s where it comes from. And I think often people, when they try to keep other people from reading something, it comes from a pretty pure motive like that.”
No matter what the motive, fighting censorship is a mission of libraries and librarians everywhere, Ammon said.
“It’s a trust that librarians and libraries hold dearly, that they resist censorship and say to people that they are fine to read this book or not and you can choose for yourself and your family, but you just can’t choose for other people,” Ammon said.
Other authors have engaged with the library and the book bandit, including Rick Reilly, author of “Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump,” who will speak at the library on Nov. 21.
Roesch Wagner heard that Reilly plans to “repopulate” the library by donating 10 copies of his book to be hidden throughout the shelves.
She plans to provide copies of her book as well, and sees the idea as a way to play with what the book bandit is doing.
“It’s kind of a way of taking the – I don’t know if you call it humorous – but the sort of creative part of what this book-hider is doing, and playing with it, you know,” Roesch Wagner said. “It takes some of the sharp edge off.”
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