All Articles » John Oliver Says Libraries Are ‘Another Front in the Ongoing Culture War’

John Oliver Says Libraries Are ‘Another Front in the Ongoing Culture War’

John Oliver

On the May 5 episode of "Last Week Tonight," host John Oliver defended public libraries, stating they’ve become another front in the ongoing culture war as many experience attacks on their funding, staff, and collections.

Oliver cited the American Library Association’s (ALA) recent findings on the increase in book bans and challenges across the US. ALA “documented efforts to censor over 4,200 unique book titles last year in schools and libraries, the highest level they’ve ever recorded, with the number of titles targeted for censorship at public libraries, in particular, rising by 92% from the previous year," he said.

Oliver said book challenges and removals are the most pressing issues facing libraries alongside budgets being slashed by local governments and "nasty abuse," including bomb threats and accusations of pedophilia and grooming children, being hurled at librarians and library workers.

Oliver pointed out that there is a growing number of community members and parents who believe that harmful and sexual books are being made available for children to read at public libraries. But they are misguided, he said.

"You can’t just demand a book be banned even if it is 'to protect the children.' [There’s] an exception when it comes to obscenity which for minors is defined as material that appeals to their prurient interest, is offensive to prevailing standards about what is suitable for minors, and lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value," he noted.

Some have tried to apply that standard “incredibly broadly”, said Oliver. The show highlighted a city council in Huntington Beach, California, that ordered all books with “sexual content” to be moved to the adults section, including children’s books about puberty and the kids’ book, “Everybody Poops.”

Oliver said that many of these challenges are coming from outside forces with agendas.

“Increasingly, the list of books challenged at libraries can be suspiciously similar,” Oliver explained. “And that is because challenges are often coming from highly organized groups, often conservative and extremely religious, who are compiling and sharing lists of books to oppose.”

Before 2021, the majority of challenges sought to remove or restrict a single book at a time. But now 93% of them attempt to censor multiple titles, and over half target 100 or more titles at a time.

“You do get the sense that people who want to censor these books can have no real idea of what’s inside them or, indeed, if they’re even at the libraries they’re protesting at all,” Oliver said, citing a case in Idaho where activists demanded that more 400 books be removed from the library, even though it already didn’t have them.

Oliver noted that mostly LGBTQ+ books are at the center of these challenges and bans.

"Frankly [it] doesn’t feel like a coincidence so much of this conversation concerns LGBTQ+ themes, as it seems this is the latest way to try and push that community out of public spaces, to send a message that their lives and stories aren’t welcome, and by extension, to tell anyone growing up questioning that the answers are off-limits to them," Oliver emphasized.

He continued: "All of which is basically just a long way of saying: Libraries need our support right now, so they can continue to serve the diverse needs of their communities, while also, of course, lending out air fryers, seeds, and copies of 'The Berensteam Cheetahs.'"

Head to Salon and The Guardian to read more about Oliver’s support for libraries.

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