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The front pages of The New York Times, New York Post, New York Daily News and Baltimore Sun newspapers are seen at a convenience store in Washington, DC, on August 6, 2019. (Photo by Alastair Pike / AFP) (Photo credit should read ALASTAIR PIKE/AFP/Getty Images)
The front pages of The New York Times, New York Post, New York Daily News and Baltimore Sun newspapers are seen at a convenience store in Washington, DC, on August 6, 2019. (Photo by Alastair Pike / AFP) (Photo credit should read ALASTAIR PIKE/AFP/Getty Images) (ALASTAIR PIKE/Getty)

Regular readers may know I usually avoid writing about Donald Trump.

That’s for two simple reasons:

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1) I care more about state and local issues, where I think I can make a difference, and,

2) Nobody cares what I think about Donald Trump.

Still, Trumpian politics sometimes bleed into Florida politics, making it harder to ignore.

That’s the case in Citrus County, where commissioners recently blocked the library’s plans to buy a digital subscription to The New York Times, calling it “fake news.”

The library carries printed copies of the Times and a few other papers. But the library’s director and advisory board wanted to also provide shared digital access to the most Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper in America — as many libraries already do. (I’ll show you how to access Orange County’s free newspaper-subscription service in a moment.)

But Citrus County commissioners said no.

'Fake news’: Florida county yanks libraries’ access to New York Times; one official cites support for Trump

Officials in a Central Florida county agreed to remove New York Times access for its library patrons, with one commissioner calling the newspaper "fake news" and citing his support for President Trump.

“I agree with President Trump. I don’t want the New York Times in this county,” said Commissioner Scott Carnahan at last month’s meeting. “I don’t like ‘em. It’s fake news. And I’m voting no.”

Asked Commissioner Jimmie T. Smith: “Why the heck would he we spend money on something like that?”

Maybe, commissioner, because you want people to be informed.

Or maybe you don’t.

As it turns out, the Citrus County Library System has a grand total of zero digital newspaper subscriptions for its 70,000 card holders, according to the Citrus County Chronicle.

Commissioners seem fine with that.

And that’s the real issue here — a public library system that isn’t fulfilling its own stated mission to “promote the pursuit of knowledge and deliver quality education to the community..."

Before anyone gets worked into a lather, thinking this column is just a love letter to the Times, it’s not.

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The Times does outstanding journalism, but this is about something more — providing citizens with as much reliable information as possible. It’s also about people who are scared of information that might challenge their preexisting opinions.

It may be mind-numbingly comfortable to bathe in the warm waters of bias confirmation. But it’s not good for society’s soul.

Local leaders shouldn’t try to keep the Times out. They should try to bring the Wall Street Journal in. And The Washington Post. And the Citrus County Chronicle. And yeah, The New York Times.

Local information. National information. Analysis from the left and the right.

Print copies alone don’t cut it anymore. All publishers know that. Cyber-delivery is the fastest-growing segment of newspapers and libraries alike.

It’s about meeting consumers where they are — and also, as Commissioner Brian Coleman briefly acknowledged, serving an older or disabled population that might not be able to trek down to the library every day.

But none of that made a lick of difference to most Citrus County commissioners.

“Some of us support the president of the United States,” said Commissioner Ronald Kitchen at a followup meeting this week. “I’m not backing off one inch.”

Think about that comment for a moment. This is a man who equates supporting the president with denying his own library chief’s request to share information with the people they both serve.

Some Citrus County residents showed up at Tuesday night’s meeting to object.

“Access to information is at the heart of the library,” said one. “You’re elected to serve all of us, whether we’re Republicans or Democrats,” said another.

A retired school teacher wagged her finger at the board and barked: “This isn’t the first time I’ve told young scalawags to stop talking and do your job!”

But commissioners had already made it clear they didn’t want digital newspaper subscriptions infiltrating their library system.

“I don’t feel like the county is obligated to subscribe to every major newspaper or every point of view,” Commission Chairman Jeff Kinnard had said at the first meeting. “At some point you draw the line.”

Apparently, Citrus County draws that line at zero.

The commission is scheduled to revisit this issue in two weeks. And there’s a solution ... if commissioners want it, anyway.

Instead of buying access to one paper (the Times) Citrus County could do what Orange County does — subscribe to distribution services that provide access to hundreds of papers.

They’re not as user-friendly as individual subscriptions. Stories are just presented in list form. But in Orange County, anyone with a library card number and PIN can go to www.ocls.info/learning-research/articles-and-databases.

There, they can look for the link to “National Newspapers Core” to access the Wall Street Journal (with its right-leaning editorials), the New York Times (with its left-leaning ones) and several others.

The library spends $2,000 a month to offer that service to everyone in the county.

Why share so much information with so many people?

“We want people to use their library cards to learn, grow and connect to the world around them,” said Orange library spokeswoman Erin Sullivan, "so we do our best to offer high-quality resources that offer people a chance to dig deeper and be more informed about current events, viewpoints and issues of local, national and global significance.”

That concept seems pretty darn basic.

Especially for a library.

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