Ban books in a free country

Don Wooten

Autumn arrived mid-week, after summer had gone off with a bang: a record 95; resulting in a temperature drop of 30 degrees in two days. It was an emphatic reminder that global warming can give habitual changes a little edge. Seasonal transitions may not always be so dramatic, but it’s comforting to have them on any terms.

On this first transitional day of fall this week, local citizens gathered after hours at the Rock Island Public Library to mark Banned Books Week, a sighting long linked to the equinox of ‘fall. The event was organized by the Midwest Writing Center, which is headquartered there. After a brief meal, participants read selections from banned books that they brought to the meeting. Similar rallies have been held across the country to counter the steady rise in attempts to ban specific books from school and public libraries.

Aside from the climate, there are few topics that generate more heat than efforts to ban books. The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom documented 681 challenges to 1,651 individual books in the first eight months of this year. Of course, some objectors cite more than one title.

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A challenge is not the same as a ban. It simply means that someone has submitted a request to have a particular book removed from a library, most often a school library. Most of them come from parents or individuals who have found work personally offensive. This is generally sexual content, but it is striking that more than 40% of books considered objectionable are about people of color; A third deals with LGBTQ topics.

Bans are harder to get because library officials, by the nature of their profession, are against them. I read that two directors of the Vinton, Iowa public library resigned over attempts to ban LGBTQ titles. But bans are sometimes applied. The Illinois State Library lists eight that they have banned.

An interesting case comes from Logan, Iowa, where one of the townspeople, Kailee Coleman, wrote a popular children’s book called “And That’s Their Family,” an account of the great diversity of contemporary family life. . Some citizens want to ban it, along with a biography of Harvey Milk. the first openly gay man elected to public office in California.

Coleman, whose book grew out of her daycare work, replied, “I was surprised because the book is a book of facts. These are just family structures that exist in this world. Along with the idealized family sitcom model of the 1950s, she lists 18 different ways that many families today operate. She adds: “There are blank pages at the end of the book to draw your own family and draw a family different from yours! The entire book can be sung to the Addam Family tune!

Logan Library Director Kate Simmons has come to the defense of Coleman’s popular book for both professional and personal reasons: “Diversity, inclusivity and representation are fundamentally my philosophy. I’m a member of the LGBTQ community, and haven’t been to this public library for about a decade because I didn’t feel represented. I think kindness and acceptance have to come into play here.

Mark Stringer, executive director of the ACLU in Iowa, released a statement about actions to “close access to certain books and ideas.” He insisted that public schools and community libraries have a First Amendment obligation “not to censor materials simply because some members of the community disagree with the views expressed in these document”.

It’s worth pointing out that Iowa isn’t alone in having this problem. No state has banned more books than Texas (713). Pennsylvania is second with 456. (One of its county districts has banned a long list of books written by or about people of color.) Florida’s governor wants to make it a crime to use certain books. A total of 1,586 books have been banned or restricted by 86 districts across the country, according to PEN (Pets, Essayists, Novelists) America.

School districts in Illinois are under pressure from parents to ban books such as Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer” for its explicit illustrations and George M. Johnson’s “All Boys Aren’t Blue” for its sexually explicit text. There is a wide range of books under threat, most of them for overtly discussing sex.

This is a difficult subject to deal with objectively. If you were a teenager about 80 years ago, you would have been desperate to learn anything about sex. During my school years, all I knew for certain was that it was a sin and could lead to venereal disease. I would have paid any price for one of the attacked books. As an adult, I’m as worried about their availability as the most nervous parent.

Yet banning books in a free country cannot be the right answer. Springer gives the most reasonable answer to the dilemma: “A person can decide that he doesn’t want to read a certain book. They may decide that they do not want their child to read this book. But they can’t decide that the whole school or the whole town can’t read this book.

Sex isn’t the only thing some find offensive. There are calls to censor books that deal with race, especially the brutal facts of slavery as it was actually practiced before the Civil War and its lingering presence afterwards. Stories about immigration, different forms of government and finance, evolution, religions other than Christianity – all face opposition from Americans who are nervous about having to make room in their lives. privileged to those who are different.

Acceptance of diversity is essential to democracy. American citizens come from all over the world. Equality is easy if everyone looks, acts and thinks the same way. This is why inclusive American democracy may be difficult for some to accept. Books are essential in helping us understand lives of which we have no lived experience. Banned Books Week is an annual reminder of this fact.

Don Wooten is a former Illinois State Senator and regular columnist. Email him at: [email protected]

Citizen volunteers were organized to visit county clerks to make various bizarre demands and threaten legal action. A flood of access to information requests is being made to tie up employees in an effort to hamper election preparations.


Christy J. Olson