At a recent meeting of the Hernando County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), Julie Maglio, of the Hernando Sun, lamented the lack of local news access, and encouraged the commission to work with her as one of the few news sources in Hernando County. She highlighted our county’s classification as a news dessert, which has resulted in a dearth of information available to our residents. Our community requires access to a variety of news sources to make decisions about our values, health, consumer needs, travel arrangements, and more. Businesses interested in setting up shop in Hernando County thrive with an educated workforce and informed consumers. Moreover, as research from the Journal of Communication indicates, a lack of local news leads to an increase in political polarization. Making sure folks have access to a variety of sources of information is a necessary and noble goal.
It has come to the attention of many in the Tampa Bay area, and the nation, that the Citrus County BOCC wishes — entirely for political reasons — to reject an opportunity for an affordable digital subscription to the New York Times, a paper to which Hernando County public library users do not have access. This clashes with the mission of our public libraries and with the American Library Association’s declaration: “Public libraries are government agencies subject to the First Amendment. Rejecting or censoring a publication based upon its political viewpoint represents both content and viewpoint discrimination that is contrary to the spirit of the First Amendment’s promise of freedom of speech and freedom of belief.” To put it mildly, such a decision would not be in the best interest of Citrus County residents, and many have already spoken out against such an abhorrent and partisan position.
We should take this opportunity to consider the information diet of our citizens and the ways in which our government restricts or enriches it. This incident has given us a chance to consider what would happen if this opportunity was presented before our Hernando County commission, made up of a similarly homogenous group. Would they choose to reject needed resources for partisan gain? Would our commission be met with the same global disapproval as the commission just a few miles north? Fortunately for Hernando County library users, we do not have to run such an experiment. Anyone with a free library account may digitally request that our library system add any book, film, magazine, or newspaper. The library card holders of our community have the power to ensure that our county has access to a diverse array of information sources. Use it.
Hernando County Progressive Caucus