In Defense of Free Choice in American Libraries

In Defense of Free Choice in American Libraries

Recent campaigns by vocal minority groups are threatening the ability of library users in the United States to freely choose what they want to read. Brandishing books that they find objectionable and delivering impassioned speeches to school boards and elected officials, special interest groups have gained traction in recent months. Often targeting texts about race and sexuality, attacks on free choice are becoming increasingly aggressive and risk undermining the ability of libraries to provide their users with relevant and essential reading materials.

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Proving to be disturbingly effective in campaigns against books that deal with sexuality and racial identity “porn” has become a buzzword for books containing LGBTQ+ characters and “Critical Race Theory'' a byword for objectionable school curricula. Localized groups allege that reading materials dealing, even tangentially, with sexuality are obscene. Use of the word “pornography” to describe books dealing with sexuality and gender identity has, nevertheless, turned the heads of elected officials, school boards, and voting groups. Libraries are facing mounting pressures to remove titles such as Toni Morrison’s Bluest Eye, and Maia Kobobe’s handbook Gender Queer

Alarmingly, as those in power bend to pressure placed on them by these special interest groups many are drafting legislation that circumvents the ability of librarians to curate and maintain their collections. Placing power in the hands of oversight boards and burying the book removal and purchasing process under layers of bureaucracy may become a new reality in American libraries. Perhaps most concerning are measures placing librarians in a position where they face criminal charges for having objectionable books in their library collection. A result of these heavy-handed and intimidating practices may be that librarians will refrain from purchasing titles that deal with sexuality and racial identity to avoid incurring backlash and oversight. Thus library users will be deprived of valuable resources. 

In recent months cases of book banning and library censorship have been increasing at an astounding rate. In Virginia, multiple school boards voted to have books with “sexually explicit” material removed from school libraries. Librarians in Texas have been asked to survey an exhaustive list of titles considered “obscene” by a local politician. The governor of South Carolina is personally calling for actions against “objectionable” materials in libraries.  School boards in Kansas are pulling titles from their school library shelves. In Florida, an elected official contacted law enforcement in response to encountering a book she found objectionable in a school library. In Tennessee, a special interest group is campaigning against specific books. Criminal charges were filed in Wyoming when books said to be “obscene” were identified on public library shelves. In Wisconsin, lawmakers are attempting to ban words related to sexuality and racial identity from school settings. 

Library advocates and supporters are questioning why a vocal minority should be allowed to dictate what millions of Americans have access to in their libraries. As valuable works of fiction and nonfiction are added daily to the proverbial bonfire, EveryLibrary and other library supporters are rising to meet the threats to freedom and free choice in American libraries and educational institutions.