Woster: Remember, ideas are essential and words are powerful

I really can’t remember a time when anyone in the community objected to the books in the library or the reading habits of its patrons, young or old.

Terry Woster
Terry Woster

When I read of efforts in some communities across the country to ban books, I’m grateful that I grew up with the parents I had and with the gentle woman who ran Chamberlain’s public library.

There’s a movement by some in this land to limit exposure to certain books and other publications, especially when it comes to such things that might be read by young people of school age. I’ve seen news stories about proposals to ban, take from shelves, even burn certain books. Rapid City schools recently had a public blow-up over a proposal to destroy some books that had been ordered for a senior class.

It reminds me of the histories I read about the Nazi attempts in Germany to burn and ban books the leadership found objectionable. It reminds me of failed attempts in the 1950s to smash and burn Elvis Presley records and in the 1960s to destroy Beatles albums. As if somehow by burning a copy of the White Album, the music — and the ideas conveyed in the lyrics and melodies — would disappear.

I’ve written before about how my dad and mom encouraged their five children to read — books, magazines, newspapers, all sorts of publications that would expose us to new ideas, to new ways of considering the world and our developing beliefs about it. My folks went out of their way to get us to the public library regularly, even when I sometimes forgot to return a book on time and had to pay a small fine.

My mom and dad believed in the power of words. They were grand storytellers. My dad made up bedtime stories night after night. I think his unlimited imagination captivated each of his kids. My mother never thought of herself as a storyteller. Even so, she could spin the most elaborate, colorful, detail-rich tales of her childhood, her siblings and her aunts and uncles.


Dad regaled us with things that might or might not have ever been. He made them as real as if we’d lived them ourselves. Mother made the goings-on of one Irish, Lyman County family come alive. We saw our aunts and uncles in a new light, story after story.

In each case, what our parents were sharing with us were ideas. I grew up knowing ideas were essential and words were powerful.

In my younger years, Miss Arp oversaw the public library in Chamberlain. She kind of frightened me during my first visits. She seemed to know where every patron was at every moment. I came a frequent visitor to her kingdom, checking out and returning books as often as I could get downtown. She began to smile, just a little, when I approached her desk to get the stamp of approval for an armload of ideas bound in hard covers. Eventually, she began to suggest books I might enjoy, based on books I’d taken out and returned. Like my parents with their stories, Miss Arp introduced ideas into my young world.

I don’t recall my folks ever objecting to any of the books I brought home. I really can’t remember a time when anyone in the community objected to the books in the library or the reading habits of its patrons, young or old.

All my life, I’ve considered a library the place in a community where all the ideas are kept. Nobody is forced to go there. Nobody is required to avail themselves of its services. The services are available for those who wish to take advantage of them.

I recognize that school library books and books for school classes are a little different. School is required. Assignments are to be completed. There is a legitimate public interest in what’s going on in schools. Parents should pay attention to all school happenings, including what reading materials are being used or suggested.

If a parent doesn’t want their child to read a certain book, I’m good with that. But that parent doesn’t have the right to decide whether other parents’ children should read that book.

Looking back over 78 years, I’m grateful no one tried to limit my access to books. I want it to stay that way.

Opinion by Terry Woster
What To Read Next
Get Local