Libraries face increasing attempts to ban books

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Chiaradio complained to the school committee — the president was his sister — and the committee sided with the school. he later filed a criminal complaint with Westerly police, unsuccessfully arguing that “Gender Queer” and two other books violated federal and state obscenity laws.

In her 24 years as a librarian, Mirando said she had never experienced such a time. “I strongly believe in the student’s right to read and freedom of access to information,” she told the Globe.

But recently, right-wing groups have stepped up to challenge the books more often than ever, urging parents to push for the books to be removed from schools and public libraries. The targeted books are often award-winning titles written by or featuring stories about people of color, which activists say are about “critical race theory” or “division,” or they have LGBTQ characters and themes. , which activists call “pornographic” or “obscene.”

According The Free Speech Center’s First Amendment Encyclopedia at Middle Tennessee University, “Book banning, a form of censorship, occurs when individuals, government officials, or organizations remove books from libraries, school reading lists, or bookstore shelves because ‘they oppose their content, ideas or themes’.

“The unprecedented number of challenges we are already seeing this year reflect coordinated national efforts to silence marginalized or historically underrepresented voices and deprive all of us – young people, in particular – of the chance to explore a world beyond. beyond the limits of personal experience,” ALA President Lessa Kananiʻopua Pelayo-Lozada said in a statement.

“Efforts to censor entire categories of books reflecting certain voices and opinions show that moral panic isn’t about children: it’s politics,” she said. “Organizations with a political agenda put out lists of books they don’t like.”

According to data released this month by the American Library Association, in 2021 the number of attempts to ban or restrict library resources in schools, universities and public libraries was the highest than the ALA. has recorded in its 20 years of data collection. And this year, it is expected to be as high, or even higher.

From January to August this year, the ALA documented 681 attempts to ban or restrict library resources, targeting 1,651 titles. Last year, there were 729 attempts to censor library resources, targeting 1,597 books.

Most banned authors include winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature, National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, Booker Prize, Newbery Award, Caldecott Medal, Eisner Award, PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, NAACP Image Award and the GLAAD Award for Media Representation. “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” written and illustrated by Maia Kobabe, who won an Alex award of the American Library Association for having “a particular appeal for young adults, from 12 to 18 years old‘, among other accolades, is the most contested and banned book.

While those who seek to ban books are vocal, they are a minority, according to polls by ALA. The majority of voters from all parties oppose efforts to remove books from public libraries.

Three-quarters of parents of public school children express great confidence in school librarians to make good decisions about what books to make available to children, according to the ALA, and when asked about the types of specific books that have received special attention. local debates, large majorities say for everyone that they should be available in school libraries on an age-appropriate basis.

Rising battles for books have led Rhode Island school librarians to develop policies on how to deal with the challenges, said Joan Eldridge Mouradjian, president of Rhode Island School Librarians and librarian at Narragansett Pier Middle School.

At Westerly, for example, someone requesting the removal of a book from a school library must fill out a five-page form that requires them to detail their concerns, why they think the content is inappropriate, whether they have read the entire book and cite sources that agree with their opinion, among other issues. A committee consisting of a teacher, a student’s parent at the school, a registered librarian, and a director or designate will read the book, evaluate the information, and render a decision.

Other libraries have similar policies, all intended to establish careful procedures that assess whether books should be considered for removal. Pen America, a non-profit organization that defends freedom of expression, has a tip sheet for librarians facing harassment.

“Of course, if a parent doesn’t want their kids to read a book, that’s their right,” Mouradjian said, “but they can’t take it off the shelves for other kids.”

PEN America has identified at least 50 groups involved in promoting book bans at the national, state or local level. Among national groups, Moms for Liberty, formed in 2021has spread the widest, with more than 200 local chapters identified on their website.

According to PEN America, the groups are sharing lists of books to challenge and employing tactics such as swarming school board meetings, using inflammatory language about “grooming” and “pornography,” and filing complaints. criminal complaints against school officials, teachers and librarians.

Mirando worries about new librarians, who may be hesitant to buy a book because they don’t want a backlash and fear they won’t be supported by their school community. This “soft censorship” could just as easily keep books off the shelves as more formal challenges.

In Rhode Island, Pawtucket school officials dismissed “Fun Home,” by Alison Bechdel, in January after the parent of a freshman at the Jacqueline M. Walsh School for the Performing and Visual Arts said he found the book, a National Book finalist Critics Circle Award, objectionable.

A recent challenge in North Kingstown came from the small Rhode Island chapter of the Independent Women’s Forum. The IWF, along with its affiliates Independent Women’s Network and political advocacy arm, Independent Women’s Voice, are right-wing nonprofits that describe themselves as women’s organizations promoting policies that “strengthen freedom, opportunity and people’s well-being”.

However, the Center for Media and Democracy call the IWF “an anti-feminist organization mostly funded by right-wing foundations,” including the Koch brothers. A investigation by The Intercept discovered that the IWF had received millions of dollars black money groups advancing conservative control of the courts.

Nicole Solas of South Kingstown, head of the Rhode Island section and senior researcher at IWF Educational Freedom Center, led a small vocal and ultimately unsuccessful effort to have “Gender Queer” removed from the library at North Kingstown High School, despite having no children in school. When she failed, she went to the state police to file a lawsuit against the high school librarian, principal, and school board chairman for having a book containing “pornography.”

“I don’t want any over 18 books containing pornography in school libraries. It’s very simple,” Solas said in a text message to The Globe on Monday, after moderating an IWF forum on “Gender Ideology in Schools,” where she claimed educators indoctrinate children. “There’s a big difference between thinking it shouldn’t be shown to children in public schools and calling for it to be banned. This difference is sensationalism [sic] which misleads the public. »

But the executive director of the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union says that’s exactly what the book ban is all about.

“A book ban is simply removing a book from a library based on its contents so that it cannot be obtained by members of the public,” Steven Brown said. “I think it’s very unfortunate that librarians have to bear the brunt of these culture wars.”

“It’s one thing for an individual to control what their own children read, but it’s unreasonable for people to try to dictate what other people’s children read. It goes directly against what an education system should be,” he added.

According to Brian Hodge, spokesman for Attorney General Peter F. Neronha, child pornography should depict “a real, real child,” as opposed to an illustration, as it does in “Gender Queer.” And to be considered obscene, prosecutors would have to determine “that there is absolutely no serious artistic or literary merit in the material.” A book’s availability in legitimate bookstores and recognition in literary circles strongly undermines arguments about obscenity, he noted.

For the complaint against “Gender Queer,” the state police and attorney general’s office concluded that state laws on child pornography and obscenity “demonstrably do not apply,” Hodge said.

The attorney general believes that it is up to parents, school administrators and school committees to determine whether a book should remain on the shelves of a school library and who should be able to access it, Hodge said in a statement.

“And certainly, it’s not a priority of this office to bring criminal charges against school librarians based on a disagreement about what should appear on high school library shelves,” Hodge added.


Amanda Milkovits can be contacted at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.


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