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U.S. Book Challenges Update

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Book challenges and bans 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 frequently highlight several stories on the current crisis. This roundup includes news from Ohio, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Michigan.

Tulsa Public Schools bans two books

Tulsa (Okla.) Public Schools have removed two books from high school libraries in the city, saying that the works contained “inappropriate images,” reports the Oklahoma Eagle. The books in question are Gender Queer: A Memoir, by Maia Kobabe, and Flamer, a semi-autobiographical graphic novel by Mike Curato. The books were removed on July 27.

“When we were made aware of two books with inappropriate images, we immediately asked the secondary schools that had them to remove them from their libraries,” Tulsa Public Schools said in a statement. School administrators will also review books available in schools and may remove additional books in the future. “When school resumes, we will follow our process and more carefully review books in question,” the statement said. “We are also working to understand the selection process used and will modify as needed.”

Virginia Republicans are testing a new way to ban books and restrict their sales. In the long run, it might just work

Slate writes: “At the end of August, in a courtroom in Virginia Beach, a judge will decide whether to put two books [Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe and A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas] on trial for obscenity.

“This is a strange sentence to write, and I expect a strange sentence to read, because these days books don’t go on trial for obscenity. Books haven’t really gone on trial for obscenity since landmark 20th-century cases determined that first James Joyce’s Ulysses, and then Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, could not be banned by the government. Like most Americans, you might believe books have a settled status in our culture—that even if they contain sexual material, they’re protected by the First Amendment.

“Tim Anderson disagrees. He’s the man trying to get the books declared obscene—and, in the process, change obscenity law in the United States.”

As the school year begins, calls for book bans begin to accelerate in Ohio

“With the culture war surrounding Critical Race Theory in full force in Ohio, schools are getting increased calls to ban literature,” reports News 5 Cleveland. “The new school year is about to begin, and already the fight about the books students will read has begun.” And Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, set in Morrison’s hometown of Lorain, Ohio, is in the sights of a conservative organizer who seeks to have the book removed from local schools.

Michigan library defunded after refusing to censor LGBTQ+ authors

Patmos Library in Jamestown Township, Michigan, is at risk of shutting down after residents voted on August 2 to defund the library rather than tolerate certain LGBTQ+-themed books, reports Bridge Michigan. The vote was the culmination of months of contentious board meetings and complaints over the library’s inclusion of Gender Queer: A Memoir in its adult graphic novel collection. Complaints were also filed about other graphic novels, including Spinning,” by Tillie Walden, and Kiss Number 8, by Colleen AF Venable and illustrator Ellen T. Crenshaw. In the aftermath of the vote, the library has received more than $100,000 in donations. Voters will have another opportunity to fund the library in the November general election.

Take action

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 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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