You Can’t Read That!

Over the past year, my focus at YCRT! has been on book banning in schools. I’m shifting now to efforts to ban books from public libraries.

Schools and school districts have review procedures to follow when responding to attempts to ban books from classrooms and libraries. Those procedures are often ignored and bypassed by administrators anxious to avoid controversy and public condemnation. School teachers and librarians, sadly, don’t have the freedom to ignore bans imposed by their bosses.

Public librarians have even more stringent review procedures, as well as professional standards designed to protect their ability to serve communities, including minority members of those communities. Public librarians can, and normally do, ignore outside pressure to ban books. Now, though, right-wing and religious book banners, learning from their battles with school districts and boards, are beginning to pressure public libraries through the political boards that govern their funding (and, to be sure, doxing, harassing, and threatening librarians).

The crowbar they’re using to break into public libraries and pry books from the shelves is one they’ve found effective against school districts and boards: protecting children. Protecting children, that is, from “pornography” in LGBTQ-themed books and graphic novels. You’ll see the same books — notably, Gender Queer and Fun Home — mentioned over and over in this news roundup about efforts to ban books from public libraries:

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Controversy has swirled around the Patmos Library since patrons began protesting some books with LGBT themes written for young adults. (Bridge Photo by Ron French)

Upset over LGBTQ Books, a Michigan Town Defunds Its Library in Tax Vote (Michigan Bridge)

What started as a fight over an LGBTQ-themed graphic novel may end with the closure of a west Michigan public library. Voters in Jamestown Township, a politically conservative community in Ottawa County, rejected renewal Tuesday of a millage that would support the Patmos Library. That vote guts the library’s operating budget in 2023 — 84 percent of the library’s $245,000 budget comes from property taxes collected through a millage.

The War on Libraries Roils “The Best Small Library in America” (Spokane Spokesman-Review)

The attack against libraries and the attempt to censor diverse perspectives are part of the overall suite of cultural battles against knowledge and modernity coming from the extreme right, built largely on a foundation of white grievance.

Iowa Town Gets Wish: No More LGBTQ Books, Because No More Library (Wonkette)

The public library in Vinton, Iowa has been closed since July 8 following the resignations of most of its already small staff, largely in reaction to a sustained campaign by rightwing members of the community who didn’t like the fact that the library had a display of LGBTQ books. Even more frightening, several LGBTQ human beings were on its staff, eek. After the library’s most recent interim director took a job elsewhere, there weren’t enough staff to keep the library open, so it shut its doors temporarily while the library board figured out what to do next.

Oklahoma Threatens Librarians: ‘Don’t Use the Word Abortion’ (Vice)

The message also asks library workers to be wary of people who try to trick staff into giving them information on how to obtain an abortion so they can report them to authorities. Branch managers have given similar guidance to library workers across the system, according to workers who spoke with Motherboard on condition of anonymity.

An Ode to Librarians as They Come Under Siege (Daily News)

In the thick of a fresh wave of book bans, librarians in some states are on the cusp of being criminally targeted if they buck political orthodoxy. Leave librarians alone! They’ve always been my friends. They were the literary guidance counselors at my local library, where I spent much of my time as a shy, bookish girl.

Group Demands Books in Coventry Pride Display Be Burned (Manchester CT Journal-Inquirer)

A group of mothers upset over a Pride display in the children’s section of the Booth & Dimock Memorial Library last month demanded that the books in the display be burned.

The New Censorship Fight at Our Public Libraries (Tampa Bay Times)

Let’s play along with how these grassroots culture war controversies work and pretend that these mothers stumbled on the offending books, not that they went hunting for them as part of a nationwide effort designed to remove books that they find offensive and, eventually, take over library boards.

‘A Slippery Slope’: Residents Defend Dixon Library Following Push to Remove LGBTQ Comics Depicting Sex Acts (Sauk Valley IL News)

The Library Board doesn’t have the authority to remove material from the library; the library director makes decisions on selecting and discarding materials. […] “The board may not be able to remove books, but they can remove directors,” Nicklaus said, adding that there was no “wisdom or discernment” to giving children access to the books.

Large Crowd Speaks Out against Books They Call Pornographic at Ashland Public Library (Ashland OH Source)

It’s not often the topics of child pornography, nudity and sexual intercourse come up during an Ashland Public Library’s board meeting. But the subjects came up several times during Thursday’s meeting, where an overflow crowd of people gathered, most of them present to let the board know about their disapproval of certain books in circulation.

Dickinson County Library’s Book Collection Questioned during Board Meeting (TV6, Negaunee MI)

A divided crowd of more than 50 people gathered at the Dickinson County Library to listen and share their opinions on the library’s book collections. The discussion began when a patron challenged the graphic novel “Patience & Esther” in March for its graphic sexual images.

Librarians Caught up in Vicious Anti-LGBTQ Cultural Book Bans Are Quitting (Los Angeles Blade)

In an article published this week by The New York Times, the paper reported that as highly visible and politicized book bans have exploded across the country, librarians — accustomed to being seen as dedicated public servants in their communities — have found themselves on the front lines of an acrimonious culture war, with their careers and their personal reputations at risk. They have been labeled pedophiles on social media, called out by local politicians and reported to law enforcement officials. Some librarians have quit after being harassed online. Others have been fired for refusing to remove books from circulation.

Montana Rejects Library Logo over Similarity to Pride Flag (Valdosta GA Daily Times)

The commission that oversees the Montana State Library has rejected a proposed new logo after a member said the main feature — a prism — brought to mind the rainbow LGBTQ pride flag, something she suggested would set off a political firestorm.

The Spread of Book Banning (The New York Times)

When people are trying to push a book out of the library, they’re making a decision for everyone, that nobody has access to a particular book. But librarians are trained to present a range of viewpoints. For them, it’s a matter of professional ethics to make sure that the point of view of one person or one group isn’t dictating what everyone reads.

© 2022, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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2 thoughts on “You Can’t Read That!

  • I’m with you all the way, Paul. If public funds are used in any manner at a library, free speech must be supported. Will they ban the Constitution?

  • Thanks for your comment, David. I’m not sure we can realistically fight the tide of “protect the children” book-banning in schools (not that we’re giving up, but we shouldn’t expect many victories in the present climate), but we HAVE to defend public libraries and librarians. In memory of Jeremy if nothing else!

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