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Book Challenges Update

A sign reading "Banned, Banned, Banned" sits in front of library shelves.

Book challenges and book banning are increasing in libraries and schools throughout the United States. To help spread the word about these activities and efforts to combat them by librarians, parents, students, politicians, and concerned citizens, I Love Libraries will highlight several stories each week on the current crisis. This roundup includes news from New Jersey, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming. Please share widely.

No adult romance book club in Oklahoma

Last week, the board of directors of the Public Library of Enid and Garfield County in Enid, Oklahoma, voted 3-2 to ban book displays and library programs that focus on sexual content, reports The Week. To comply with the new policy, the library canceled a Sexual Assault Awareness Month program, including a presentation on abuse prevention from the Enid YWCA and the inaugural Shameless Romance book club meeting. Library staff also concluded book displays on LGBTQ+ pride would have to be canceled.

"We're not restricting anyone's access," library board chairman Joseph Fletcher, who wrote the new policy, argued before the vote. "We're not kicking books out. We're talking about not having displays or programs that focus on anyone's viewpoint on sex and sexuality."

School librarians speak out

Jennisen Lucas, district librarian for public schools in Cody, Wyoming, and president of the American Association of School Librarians, was a guest on the talk show Here & Now on April 11 to discuss the recent surge in book challenges and banning in US schools.

“Librarians have some professional values. One of the things that we defend vigorously is intellectual freedom and the First Amendment right to information,” Lucas said. And seeing people trying to stop that flow of information and to remove certain information, especially when it is surrounding identities of people … it hurts the hearts of a lot of librarians because we want those people who have been underrepresented in the past to finally be visible.”

New Jersey schools under siege

There is a movement across New Jersey to ban books from school libraries, reports Many of these challenges come from those who do not live in the district who are seeking to have books banned that address sexuality, gender identity and race.

“We are working to provide information so that schools can update policy (and) procedure manuals to ensure that any challenge must come from a student or staff member in the building,” New Jersey Association of School Librarians Legislative Consultant Mary Moyer Stubbs said. “There have been members outside of the community who have made statements but have not necessarily taken the proper steps to challenge material.”

A culture war in Texas

In early November, an email dropped into the inbox of Judge Ron Cunningham, the head chair of the governing body of Llano County, Texas. The subject line read “Pornographic Filth at the Llano Public Libraries.” The email was the opening salvo in a censorship battle that is unlikely to end well for proponents of free speech in this county of 21,000 nestled in rolling hills of mesquite trees and cactus northwest of Austin, reports History News Network.

Take action

Alarmed by the escalating attempts to censor books? Here are four steps you can take now to protect the freedom to read.

1. Follow news and social media in your community and state to keep apprised of organizations working to censor library or school materials.

2. Show up for library colleagues at school or library board meetings and speak as a library advocate and community stakeholder who supports a parent’s right to restrict reading materials for their own child but not for all readers.

3. Help provide a safety net for library professionals as they work to navigate the intellectual freedom needs of their communities by giving to the LeRoy C. Merritt Humanitarian Fund.

4. Educate friends, neighbors, and family members about censorship and how it harms communities. Share information from Banned Books Week 2021.

5. Join the Unite Against Book Bans movement to learn what you can do to defend the freedom to read in your community.

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