Challenging Times

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Book challenges and bans in public and school libraries and school curriculums are sweeping across our nation. According to the American Library Association, “A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials.”

Through the first eight months of 2022, there were 681 attempts to ban or restrict library resources, targeting 1,651 different books, according to the American Library Association. The topics of the majority of books under attack concern LBGTQ+, race issues, sexual orientation, sexual identity and explicit sexual materials. Books in the last category have included art books containing nudes painted and sculpted by major artists, The Diary of Anne Frank and The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak. Classics have also been banned such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Censorship can take many forms. Sometimes a book is banned outright. Other times a book is restricted by not allowing it to be displayed or locked away and only available with a permission slip. Some publishers are now required by certain states to put age restrictions on their books.

A disturbing trend is that a growing number of book censorship cases are not enacted by local individuals but by national organizations, generally conservative in nature, which coordinate an attack on a book. Often the book has not been read by the person who wants to censor it. The states with the most censorship cases are Texas and Florida, but there have been a few cases in Connecticut. Suffield is not immune.

Recently, First Selectman Colin Moll removed a library book from being displayed in the children’s area of the Kent Memorial Library upon the request of an anonymous person.

The book in question is called What Are Your Words: A Book About Pronouns by Katherine Locke. It is a picture book which introduces gender-inclusive pronouns in a simple way. The cover of the book is bright, colorful and innocuous.

Currently there is no policy for the library to address challenges to books on display; the policy only addresses requests to remove books from the collection. In response to Mr. Moll’s action, Julie Styles, the library director, has asked the Library Commission to update the policy to include book display challenges. However, a book has already been challenged and removed from display.

Removing a book from display is a form of censorship. The same procedure for a book challenge as directed in the existing library policy should have been applied. Mr. Moll spoke to the library director, but the anonymous person never did, the name of the anonymous person was never revealed, and a formal complaint was not made. My concern? In removing the display without recourse to any professional process, Mr. Moll established a precedent and exercised an authority that could lead to more anonymous attacks on library materials and censorship without professional review.

Our First Amendment Rights of Free Speech are expressly intended to protect the rights of challenged minorities. Public libraries are safe havens for those vulnerable communities. Librarians are trained to develop a balanced and diverse collection for all residents in a community. Libraries must remain a resource for those searching for information or for a book embracing their values. One anonymous person shouldn’t be allowed to change that.

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