The Truth about Book Bans from Someone Who's Been There
As a former Public Library Director and someone who experienced a program challenge and personal attacks - my hope is that I am able to provide as much confidence to our library staff and trustees as the ill-informed individuals who attend our board meetings and post on our social media pages.
There is no porn in the library. Every item of a library’s collection has passed the Miller Test, the U.S. Supreme Court's three-prong obscenity test. There are no X rated movies in our DVD collection and there is no porn in the paperbacks. Some sexual content, yes. Porn, no. (Click to Tweet)
Trained professionals determine what is in the library collection. “Well who’s going to select the items in the library… librarians?!” Yes. Yes they are. That’s like saying “who’s going to work on our vehicles…. mechanics?!” Come on now. (Click to Tweet)
It’s true. It makes me uncomfortable to think of my stepson reading some of the books that are available at the library. But parents/guardians provide consent for children to obtain library cards and check out materials from the library. When he was younger - was it our responsibility as parents/guardians to monitor what items were on his account and if items were overdue? Yes.
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Is it wrong for me to remove those items I was uncomfortable with him reading simply because I don’t want other people to read them and/or I don’t agree with them? Yes. (Click to Tweet)
I should also mention that these actions are ILLEGAL.
Library board and school board policies are a local expression of the constitution. As a trustee myself, I understand the importance and significance of taking the Oath of Office.
The fiduciary responsibility, understanding the mission and vision of the institution, and protecting the rights of the constituents. It's also my responsibility to understand the U.S. Constitution, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Labor Laws, other Federal, State, and Local Statutes.
Let's look at the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by itself.
- Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, and national origin in places of public accommodation.
- Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, and national origin by programs that receive federal financial assistance.
- Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, and religion by state and local government employers.
Trustees must follow the law. It's amazing that we have to even remind people of this.
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In the words of EveryLibrary’s Executive Director, John Chrastka, “if libraries cannot turn people away at the door because of the color of their skin, sexual orientation, etc. - then we also cannot remove items on our shelves for those same reasons”. (Click to Tweet)
There will be legal ramifications to libraries who do not follow the law and ban books - creating unnecessary expenses for the taxpayers and breaking the trust of the constituents who elected them into their positions. (Click to Tweet)
From EEOC violations
We anticipate that as book challenges and anti-access laws continue to face legal challenges, we will see a growing body of cases that reaffirm the ‘taken as a whole’ and “SLAPPs” standards embodied in the state and federal laws across the country.
As Justice William J. Brennan stated from the Island Trees School District v. Pico case (1982): “We hold that local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.” (Click to Tweet)
When we talk about the legal and fiduciary responsibility of trustees - I would be remiss if I didn’t address the financial burden of book challenges wasting already limited funding from our local taxpayers. (Click to Tweet)
It is not as simple as a parent saying “I want this book taken away from everyone” and it gets done. It costs time. It costs money. Lots of money.
And considering book bans are supported by an absolute minority of the population, it seems more than a little irrational that the smallest population should be costing everyone millions to adhere to their extreme ideologies.
Your taxpayer dollars pay the salary of the employees who are spending some of their time, or much of their time, reading books that have been challenged by just a handful of activists in your district… and every hour they spend reading a book to review, is an hour of other work they are not doing for you.
Imagine if other taxing districts were treated the way our libraries are under attack. If we removed items that made people feel uncomfortable and scared then we would have no roller coasters in theme parks and no lions at the zoo. (Click to Tweet)
Can you imagine residents demanding that a transportation district no longer provide services to certain residents? The idea that someone or a minority of residents can remove access to resources and services from other taxpayers just because they want to and/or they don’t use those services is preposterous. (Click to Tweet)
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Can you imagine a whole challenge committee being created to review challenges to certain programs held at the local tax-funded senior center? If it sounds absurd - it’s because it is. We must stop this from happening to our libraries. (Click to Tweet)
So what can you do to help? You show up. You speak up. You get organized & get activated. You show support at local board meetings. You build coalitions.
EveryLibrary is the nation’s nonpartisan political action organization for libraries. We have a 501(c)4 side and a 501(c)3 side - @everylibraryinstitute.
Join our national network of library supporters, take the time to read our research articles, and use our Fight for the First platform for your local library campaigns.
I will end with this. When you see someone who is so extremely passionate about an issue - someone with unwavering determination out there fighting to protect the rights of others…. There is always a reason.
People should be mad at the fact that our youth are being abused, oppressed, and ignored. And not that our public institutions provide resources, stories of shared experiences, and other healing modalities. (Click to Tweet)
Ashley Stewart, MSW
Parent | Former Public Library Director | Macro Social Worker | Assault Survivor