Libraries and schools across the country are experiencing unprecedented levels of attempts to ban or remove books from their shelves. I Love Libraries will continue to raise awareness by highlighting attempts to censor library materials, as well as efforts by librarians, parents, students, and concerned citizens to push back against them. This report includes news from Alabama, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Kentucky.
Library system flags children’s book as “sexually explicit” because of author’s last name
A public library system in Alabama mistakenly added a book to a list of works containing explicit material because the author’s last name is Gay, reports CNN.
Huntsville-Madison County Public Library system accidentally labeled the children’s picture book, Read Me a Story, Stella, by Marie-Louise Gay, as “potentially inappropriate” during an internal review of sexually explicit books in the children’s and young adult sections of the county’s libraries. The library system conducted the review using a list of books provided by Clean Up Alabama, a group that claims Alabama libraries offer books “intended to confuse the children of our communities about sexuality and expose them to material that is inappropriate for them.” Gay’s book was not on Clean Up Alabama’s list of potentially inappropriate books.
The library system admitted to the mistake after receiving backlash and acknowledged the book does not contain sexually explicit content.
Sixty-eight books to come off shelves at Iowa school district
Iowa City (Iowa) Community School District will remove at least 68 books from its libraries in early 2024 to comply with Senate File 496, one of several sweeping education initiatives signed into law in the spring that limit the content of certain school materials, reports the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Senate File 496 bans books with descriptions or depictions of sex acts from school libraries and prohibits instruction on gender and sexual identity until 7th grade, among other effects.
Iowa City Community School District's "ban" list includes a mix of contemporary works and literature classics like George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren't Blue, Stephen King’s It, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Juno Dawson’s This Book is Gay, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, and James Joyce’s Ulysses. Read the whole list.
Wisconsin school district removing more than 30 book titles from high school library
Starting October 20, students at Menomonee Falls (Wisc.) High School won't have access to 33 books, including classics like Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, after administrators in the School District of Menomonee Falls deemed them too "sexually explicit" for students, reports Wisconsin Public Radio.
School Superintendent David Muñoz said in a statement that the 3books being removed from circulation are not in compliance with the "sexually explicit content and/or profanity guidelines" set in school policy.
"It's just another blatant attempt to take resources and material out of the hands of students," said Andrew Guss, co-leader of the community advocacy group Grassroots of Menomonee Falls Area. The group learned about the book ban when students who had the books checked out from the library were asked to return the materials.
Kentucky school district bans more than 100 books, citing anti-LGBTQ+ law
Boyle County (Ky.) Schools (BCS) has banned more than 100 books from school libraries, claiming it's required under a new Kentucky law that changes how schools teach about gender identity and LGBTQ issues, but state education officials disagree, reports Louisville Public Media.
Senate Bill 150 prohibits “instruction or presentation that has the goal or purpose of students studying or exploring gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.” It also prohibits instruction on human sexuality or sexually transmitted diseases in grades 5 and below and requires schools to get parental consent before offering sex education.
BCS Superintendent Mark Wade said in a statement that the decision to pull the titles was made “in response to guidance provided by the Kentucky Department of Education … to ensure compliance with the law (SB 150).”
Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) spokesperson Toni Konz Tatman told Louisville Public Media that Senate Bill 150 “does not provide for the removal of library media resources from a school library.” Tatman also said KDE is not aware of any district other than Boyle County that has removed library books due to SB 150.
Many of the books being removed contain LGBTQ+ characters and themes, including Twelfth by Janet Key and Hurricane Child by Kacen Callender. The list also includes Anne Frank by Sid Jacobson, a graphic novel based on Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl.
Alarmed by the escalating attempts to censor books? Here are five 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 workers 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
3. Help provide a safety net for library professionals as they defend intellectual freedom in 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.
5. Join the Unite Against Book Bans movement and visit our Fight Censorship page to learn what you can do to defend the freedom to read in your community.