Library spotlights censorship with banned book programs
In August, the public library in Jamestown, Mich., lost funding due to residents’ objection to the library’s inclusion of LGBTQ materials in its collection. In July, 200 residents attended the board meeting of the Ashland (Ohio) Public Library to demand that children’s books related to health be removed for being “pornographic.” In January, a school board in Tennessee voted to remove Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus from the school’s eighth-grade curriculum, in part due to “curse words” and a depiction of a naked Holocaust victim. Public libraries in Iowa and Alaska have had to shut down temporarily due to the resignation of directors who could no longer tolerate the pressure to censor materials found objectionable by residents.
While book challenges are nothing new, they have been increasing at an alarming rate. The American Library Association (ALA) reported in April that “ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 729 challenges to library, school and university materials and services in 2021, resulting in more than 1,597 individual book challenges or removals. Most targeted books were by or about Black or LGBTQIA+ persons.” That number, 729, is the highest recorded by the ALA since it began tracking challenges in 2000.
“Although we are fortunate not to have had many challenges about materials in our community, it is critically important that we stay aware of what’s happening in public and school libraries across the country,” said Kim DeNero-Ackroyd, Heights Libraries' deputy director. “It’s disheartening to read about library staff in other cities being harassed for doing their jobs, in addition to hearing about small and rural libraries actually closing because of a loss of funding, which in some communities has been tied to politics."
“Last year, Rocky River Public Library fought off many challenges from a small but vocal group of residents called Citizens for Transparency, who accused the library of ‘grooming’ and spreading critical race theory,” added Heights Libraries Director Nancy Levin. “We are fortunate that our residents understand the need for a well-balanced collection that represents all kinds of people."
To inform the community about the growth of censorship in the United States, Heights Libraries will be celebrating national Banned Book Week, Sept. 18–24, with programs for all ages that will run throughout the month. This year's theme, determined by the international organization Banned Book Week Coalition, is "Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.” For additional information on Heights Libraries events, and to register, visit heightslibrary.org.
Banned Book Family Bingo Challenge - every day in September, at all branches: Join the "Books Unite Us" Family Bingo Challenge and celebrate the right to read. Pick up a Banned Book Bingo card in the Youth Services Department of any library branch to track how many frequently banned and challenged books you can read this month. There will be Banned Book swag for all who complete the challenge, and each entry earns a chance at a Banned Book prize pack.
Banned Book Trivia Night - Tuesday, Sept. 20, 7 p.m., at the Noble branch, 2800 Noble Road: Compete and learn why books have been censored, banned, burned, and otherwise detested. Registration begins Sept. 6.
Books Unite Us: Censorship and You Panel - Thursday, Sept. 22, 5:30 p.m., at the Lee Road branch, 2345 Lee Road: Book challenges often target youth literature reflecting diverse identities and experiences. What can parents, educators, community members and families do to support inclusion and access to diverse materials? Build your advocacy tool kit with Heights Libraries as it welcomes panelists from the ACLU of Ohio, the LGBT Community Center, and Colors + Youth. This program is recommended for adults and teens. Registration is encouraged, and begins Sept. 8.
Freedom to Read Giveaway - Sunday, Sept. 18, through Saturday, Sept. 24, at the Noble branch: Celebrate Banned Book Week by submitting entries to win one of two banned books-themed gift baskets. Each basket will include a $25 Mac’s Backs gift card, along with other themed items. (One entry slip per person per day; winners will be contacted the week of Sept. 25.)
Sheryl Banks is the communications manager for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library System.