Libraries face increasing attempts to ban books

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

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

But more recently, right-wing groups have mobilized to challenge books more than ever, urging parents to lobby for 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 claim are about “critical race theory” or “divisive”, or they contain LGBTQ characters and themes, which activists call “pornographic” or “obscene”.

According to the First Amendment Encyclopedia by the Center for Free Speech at Middle Tennessee University, “Book bans, a form of censorship, occur when individuals, government officials, or organizations remove books from libraries, school reading lists, or library shelves because of their objection to their content, ideas, or topics.” “.

“The unprecedented number of challenges we are seeing this year reflect a coordinated national effort to silence marginalized or historically underrepresented voices and deny us all – young people, in particular – the opportunity to explore a world that transcends the boundaries of personal experience,” said ALA President, Lessa Kananyupua Pelayo-Lozada, at statement.

“Efforts to censor entire categories of books that reflect particular voices and viewpoints show that moral panic is not about children: it’s about politics,” she said. Organizations with a political agenda publish 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 recorded by the ALA in 20 years of data collection. This year it is expected to be as high or even higher.

From January to August of 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.

The most banned authors are winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature, the National Book Award for Youth Literature, the Booker Prize, the Newberry Prize, the Caldecott Medal, the Eisner Prize, the PEN/Faulkner Prize for Literature, the NAACP Picture Prize, and the GLAAD Prize for Media Representation. “Gender: A Memoir,” written and illustrated by Maya Cobabe, winner of the Alex Award from the American Library Association for having “Special Appeal for 12-18 year olds,” is among other awards, the most challenging and banned book.

While those seeking to ban books are in the minority, according to a survey by the ALA. A majority of voters across party lines oppose efforts to remove books from public libraries.

Three-quarters of parents of public school children express a high degree of trust in school librarians to make good decisions about which books to make available to children, according to the ALA, and when asked which particular types of books were a focus. From local discussions, a large majority of each say it should be available in school libraries on an age-appropriate basis.

The escalation of fights over books has prompted school librarians across Rhode Island to develop policies on how to deal with the challenges, said Joan Eldridge Moragian, chief school librarian in Rhode Island and librarian at Narragansett Pier Middle School.

At Westerly, for example, a person requesting the removal of a book from the school library must fill out a five-page form asking them to explain in detail their concerns, why they think the material is inappropriate, whether they have read the entire book, and cite sources that agree with their opinion , among other questions. A committee comprising a school teacher, parent of a student, a certified librarian, and principal or designee will read the book, evaluate the information, and make a decision.

Other libraries have similar policies, all of which aim to put in place rigorous procedures for evaluating whether book removal should be considered. Pen America, a nonprofit that advocates for freedom of expression, has an information sheet for librarians facing harassment.

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

PEN America has identified at least 50 groups involved in lobbying for a book ban at the national, state, or local level. Among the national groups, Moms for Liberty, formed in 2021, has gone viral, with more than 200 local chapters identified on its website.

According to PEN America, groups share book lists to challenge and employ tactics such as school board meetings, use inflammatory language about “grooming” and “pornography,” and file criminal complaints against school officials, teachers, and librarians.

Mirando worries about new librarians, who might be reluctant 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” can keep books off the shelves like more formal challenges.

In Rhode Island, Pawtucket School officials removed “Fun Home” by writer Alison Bechdel, in January after the father of a new student at Jacqueline M. Walsh School of Dramatic and Visual Arts said he had found the book, a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist, unacceptable.

The latest challenge in North Kingstown came from the small Rhode Island chapter of the Independent Women’s Forum. The IWF, with its partners Independent Women’s Network and political advocacy arm, Independent Women’s Voice, are right-wing non-profit organizations that describe themselves as women’s organizations that work to develop policies that “enhance people’s freedom, opportunity, and well-being.”

However, the Center for Media and Democracy calls the IWF an “anti-feminist organization funded predominantly by right-wing institutions,” including the Koch brothers. An investigation by The Intercept found that the IWF received millions of dollars A dark money group that consolidates conservative control of the courts.

South Kingstown’s Nicole Solas, Rhode Island Chapter Leader and Senior Fellow at the IWF’s Center for Education Freedom, led a small, outspoken, and ultimately unsuccessful effort to remove “gender” from the North Kingstown High School library, even though she does not have a child At school. When she failed, she went to the state police to file a complaint against the high school librarian, the principal of the school, and the chair of the school committee for possession of a book containing “pornographic material”.

“I don’t want more than 18 books with pornography in school libraries,” Solas said in a text message to the Globe on Monday, after hosting an IWF forum on “Gender Ideology in Schools,” where she claimed teachers are indoctrinating children with their ideas. There is a big difference between Thinking it shouldn’t be offered to children in public schools and calling for it to be banned. This difference is the excitement [sic] This misleads the public.”

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

“Blocking a book is simply removing a book from a library based on its content, so members of the public can’t get it,” Stephen Brown said. “I think it is very unfortunate that librarians have to bear the brunt of these culture wars.”

“Controlling what his children read is one thing, but it is unreasonable for people to try to dictate what other children’s children read. It is in direct conflict with what the educational system ought to be”

According to Brian Hodge, a spokesperson for Attorney General Peter F. Nironha, child pornography should depict a “real and actual child,” as opposed to explicit, as in “gender.” For it to be considered obscene, prosecutors must determine the “lack of any serious artistic or literary merit of the material.” He pointed out that the availability of the book in legitimate bookstores and its recognition in literary circles strongly undermines the arguments about obscenity.

to complain against “The fairer sex,” Hodge said, and the state police and attorney general’s office concluded that state laws on child pornography and obscenity “clearly do not apply.”

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

“And certainly, it is not a priority for this office to bring criminal charges to school librarians based on a disagreement over what should appear on high school library shelves,” Hodge added.


Amanda Milkovits can be reached at amanda.milkovits@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter Tweet embed.

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