Throughout history, certain groups have attempted—and sometimes succeeded—to ban books from libraries across the country. According to the American Library Association (ALA), many books that the average American is most likely familiar with — books that are now considered literary classics — have been questioned. John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird have often been challenged or banned. Despite winning a Pulitzer Prize, Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” has been challenged. It is often required reading in advanced English classes in high school. Sex, violence and foul language are often cited in objections.
According to the ALA, 2021 was a busy year for contested books and threats against librarians. A recent report by the association found 729 challenges – affecting 1,600 books – in public schools and libraries. That’s more than double the 2020 numbers and the highest since the ALA compiled challenges more than 20 years ago.
Eric Head, director of Citrus County Libraries, who has worked in the library system for 26 years, said the challenges here have been few and are being managed internally. He couldn’t remember a book ever being removed from a local library. That’s encouraging.
A good book can be challenging, insightful, uplifting, or insulting. One can love a novel and another hate it. Libraries contain books on every imaginable topic. Not every book is for every person, and everyone has the opportunity not to read a book they don’t like. And parents have a responsibility to ensure that the books their children borrow are age-appropriate. The great thing about a library is that there is something for everyone.
Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA’s Office of Freedom of Thought, said as conservative-led school boards and lawmakers enact more restrictions, the number of contested books could increase.
Locally, a group actively challenged an LGBTQ exhibit at the library in June, although the district commission voted to maintain the Library Advisory Board’s recommendation.
First it’s an exhibition challenge, then a book challenge, and then a ban on what can be carried in the library. That can’t happen, and fortunately Head and his staff handle challenges sensibly.
Head said that 99 percent of the time, a book is just in the wrong place in the library. “We don’t constrain it, we move it,” he said. He said libraries aren’t involved in politics – just because a library has an exhibit or stocks a particular book doesn’t make it a recommendation. Otherwise the library would support all sorts of things.
Head believes libraries are for everyone. Let’s keep it like this.
Books should challenge the intellect, not the content.