Dear Realist Librarian,
What's going on with the book bans?
Dear Worried Patron,
The problem starts when people, usually parents, forget where their jurisdiction ends. When people forget that the only content they’re responsible for filtering is that viewed by themselves and their children, they usually try to get the offending book or movie removed from every shelf. When it comes to school and public library shelves, this goes directly against the Library Bill of Rights, the list of basic principles meant to govern the service of all libraries. Among six other principles, the Library Bill of Rights states that “libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.” The materials containing that information, it clarifies, “should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.” In other words, libraries and librarians are ethically bound to provide all sides of all arguments to whoever asks and allow them to form their own informed opinion.
Why would you propose a law that would have a librarian fined or arrested for providing unbiased materials, also known as doing their job? Why would you search a library catalog for terms such as “LGBTQ,” “Black Lives Matter,” “abortion,” “sexual education,” and “police violence” and then call for a mass ban of every title that comes up without knowing anything more about them? Why, at a time when almost every book ever written can appear in your inbox when you tap your phone in the right places, would you waste your (and everyone else’s) time trying to ruin a stranger’s access to content you wouldn’t care about at all if it wasn’t against your personal beliefs? Beliefs that those strangers don’t share, and content that those strangers might find personal representation in? Why, 385 years ago, couldn’t the Puritan government have trusted their citizens to read a devastating criticism of their way of life and decide to continue faithfully serving the community?
I’ve been puzzling over these questions as I’ve been puzzling over the 850-item list out of Texas of potential bans that came out in late 2021. I’ve been puzzling over these questions since I was a closeted, depressed preteen who had never seen someone in a book who felt the way I felt until I read Ellen Hopkins and Julie Anne Peters. I couldn’t figure out, and still can’t really understand, why those who call for censorship and bans feel the need to bully marginalized content out of circulation when it wasn’t for them in the first place and they could simply walk away from it in favor of something they will enjoy.