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Our view: Capone picture not a reason to bash library

Published: Thursday, March 13, 2014 1:16 p.m. CST

You hear a lot about how impressionable children are, how it’s important for them to be exposed to positive role models as they grow and develop. All sorts of studies have been done over the years that seem to indicate that exposure to the right kind of moral examples can set children up to be healthier, happier adults.

But the understandable desire to spare children from negative role models sometimes can go to extremes. For instance, a Brookfield resident recently sent a letter of protest to the Brookfield Public Library to express his outrage at an image of Al Capone that was displayed on a bulletin board.

Giorgio DiPaolo clearly feels that he has a legitimate concern about the impact of this picture on local children. “Do you think it is ok to display a picture of a pimp and mass murderer, who is arguably the most indecent person in Chicagoland history, in a prominent area of the children’s section of our library?” Paolo wrote. “… [T]he damage has been done to the minds of these little, innocent children of our community and it is irreversible.”

Library officials were respectful but resolute in rejecting the accusations: “2014 is the Centennial year for the Brookfield Public Library,” board President Jennifer Perry wrote in response. “As part of the celebration, every month the bulletin board will highlight a specific decade since the library opened its doors. While it is important to communicate information about historical events in an appropriate manner, it is wrong to sanitize and purge these displays of certain events because they are considered unpleasant or difficult. Our society continues to evolve by examining the past.”

DiPaolo’s letter also protested that including Capone’s image was an affront to Italian Americans, an accusation that has been leveled in the past at movies and TV shows such as “The Godfather” and “The Sopranos.” But where those entertainments showed both the allure and the pitfalls of the lives of mobsters, the library’s display was meant to be purely informational – there was nothing lurid about it.

“The information provided on the board is factual, makes no reference to the ethnic heritage of Al Capone, nor does it detail or glorify Al Capone’s crimes or activities,” Perry wrote.

It’s hard to imagine a scenario where exposure to a single picture of Al Capone sparks a downward spiral for a child, ending with a teenager or young adult who wants to emulate the path of a man who ended up dying alone and penniless in Alcatraz.

Not to mention, any child spending a day in the Brookfield Public Library most likely has great role models at home who can more than counteract any negative influences from a justifiably vilified historical figure. In truth, the kids you really need to worry about are the ones who never enter the library at all.

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