We sometimes take the public library for granted, thinking of it only as a place to find an interesting book.

But occasionally we receive a welcome reminder that libraries serve an even more vital purpose, and one that is among the foundations of our republic.

Libraries are the wood-and-stone bulwarks against attempts to weaken the freedom of expression enshrined in the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution. As we stroll between the shelves we understand that the government’s role is not to decide what we read but rather to defend our right to read whatever we choose.

Or watch, to more accurately reflect the recent case that reinvigorated our appreciation for libraries.

Here’s what happened:

Workers at the Baker County Library in Baker City noticed last fall that several DVD movies had been hidden in places that patrons were unlikely to find them. Each of the films had gay or lesbian characters and themes.

Through some sleuthing, Library Director Perry Stokes identified a suspect, a man who later admitted to Stokes, this March, that he had hidden the DVDs. The man told Stokes he was offended by the gay and lesbian themes.

He’s not alone in feeling that way, of course. And obviously people who disapprove of such films can’t be, and aren’t, compelled to watch them.

But they don’t have the concomitant right to deprive others of watching those movies, which is precisely what the patron tried to do.

We endorse Stokes’ decision to ban the man from the library for six months.

Libraries have a legal responsibility to deter censorship in whatever form and to preserve the sacred right for individuals, without interference from the government or from their fellow citizens, to decide what they see and hear.

From the Baker City Herald editorial board. The board consists of publisher Kari Borgen, editor Jayson Jacoby and reporter Chris Collins.

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