By Tracy Kallassy
Garfield County Public Libraries
It may sound like something more suited to a dystopian novel than to present-day America, but attempts to ban books are surging across the country and are becoming increasingly successful. The past few months alone have seen a staggering number of developments. Among them:
In Michigan, a public library faces closure after citizens voted to defund it over its inclusion of books with LGBTQ+ content in its collection.
In Virginia, a judge has agreed to hear a case arguing that two popular books should be deemed legally obscene and therefore illegal to possess or distribute in the state.
In Iowa, a public library has closed after full-time staff resigned, citing harassment from those pushing for removal of certain books from its shelves.
In Idaho, the House passed a bill that would criminalize librarianship, prosecuting librarians for disseminating “harmful” materials to children.
In New York, author Salman Rushdie was stabbed 10 times, presumably in retaliation for his 1988 novel, “The Satanic Verses”.
The American Library Association (ALA) reported an unprecedented number of challenges to books in 2021, and that number is expected to rise significantly in 2022. Across the nation, books are being removed from library shelves, often under the pretense of protecting children from indoctrination. In recent years, the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom lists LGBTQ+ and sexually explicit content as the most commonly cited reasons for challenges to materials, along with issues of race.
Our Garfield County libraries have received four formal challenges to materials so far in 2022, a number which doesn’t include the informal complaints library staff hear on a regular basis. For each formal challenge, a committee of library staff examines the work to verify that its inclusion in our collection adheres to the criteria in our Materials Selection Policy.
If the challenger is unhappy with the committee’s decision, they can appeal to the library’s Board of Trustees. To date, none of these challenges has resulted in the removal of the book from our collection, although it was determined in one case that the item should be moved to another area of the library.
Librarians take our responsibility to protect our community’s freedom to read very seriously. Professional ethics mandate that we provide equal access to materials representing a broad range of ideas and viewpoints, and we take care not to let partisan or doctrinal disapproval influence collection decisions. We stand against censorship and believe our patrons have the right to decide what books are appropriate for themselves and for their families.
Intellectual freedom can be easy to take for granted for a generation that has experienced few significant restrictions to content, but our freedom to read is a right that needs to be protected and cherished.
On Sunday, Sept. 18 at 1 p.m., join us on the lawn behind the Carbondale Library as we come together to observe Banned Books Week and celebrate our freedom to read. Bring your picnic blanket or lawn chair and come to the mic to read from our selection of frequently banned and challenged books, or simply listen as others read passages from their favorites.
Jamie LaRue, GCPLD’s executive director and former director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom and the Freedom to Read Foundation, will be on hand to share his experiences as a longtime defender of intellectual freedom. Ice cream will be served and attendees are welcome to bring a picnic lunch.
Please note that reading choices will not be censored and may come from books written for children, teens or adults. Attendees should consider their own comfort levels in deciding to attend or bring children.
In today’s political climate, it can be tempting to see this as a partisan issue, but complaints don’t come from just one side of the political spectrum. The freedom to read is not something that applies only to those who share our views. It’s just as important to protect these rights for those we disagree with as it is to protect them for ourselves. To paraphrase librarian Jo Goodwin, “A good library will have something to offend everyone.”
What: Banned Books Week picnic
When: Sunday, Sept. 18 at 1 p.m.
Where: The Carbondale Library
Why: “Librarians take our responsibility to protect our community’s freedom to read very seriously.”