Editorial: St. Charles library decision heartbreaking but necessary in light of threats

In the long, draining months of the pandemic, we've become sadly accustomed to tales of unruly passengers going after flight attendants, customers having mask meltdowns in stores and parents spewing hatred at school board meetings.

So news on Jan. 20 that the St. Charles Public Library was pausing in-person visits because of protests over mask mandates and threats against staff was not all that surprising. It was, however, heartbreaking and deeply disturbing in a month where Illinois recorded almost 3,000 COVID-19 deaths - more than a third of them from the suburbs.

Two weeks later, the library's doors remain closed, though virtual and drive-up services are available.

The flap started when more than three dozen people last month protested the library's decision to follow the statewide indoor mask mandate. After that, library officials received hundreds of communications from the community - some quite ugly.

Closing the library - a haven for so many - was a bold but unfortunately necessary move, one made after consultation with police. Officials say it will reopen only after additional security has been hired.

Anyone who questions that difficult decision or complains about the extra cost of security should take a hard look at the kind of threats leveled against the library, revealed in a recent Kane County Chronicle article in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

One of the documents shows a picture of a tweet that reads, "Imagine the reaction if you all went in there with loaded guns." An Instagram post, meanwhile, offered up this threat: "Apparently these people need to be shown what an actual ambush looks like."

Libraries, of course, aren't the only battleground for mask protests that put officials in an impossible position. Earlier this week, the Kaneland Unit School District 302 school board adjourned early after some members of the audience refused to wear masks. The crowd continued to fight back after the meeting by calling board members "crybabies" and "cowards" - the kind of behavior that would get their kids in a world of trouble.

Simply put, public places have rules. In most, you can't walk in without a shirt and shoes - no matter how much you argue that footwear is a violation of your freedom.

"We certainly hear the frustration of our community members, and we understand that the mandate requirements have been difficult for many," the library said in a statement. "However, we are a unit of government and are required to follow Gov. Pritzker's mask mandate."

We all look forward to the day we won't need masks to attend a school board meeting or check out a book. Hatred and harassment won't get us there any sooner.

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