By: Sarah Hicks
The reasons people challenge books, in schools and in libraries, are numerous. Regardless, a surprising number of Americans, when faced with the right reason, are actually pro-book banning. This is reflected in a recent YouGov.com poll, which asked what kinds of content in books should be banned and in what settings.
The full results are worth looking at (and can be found here) and may give librarians a peek into what upcoming book challenges they might face. What I found most surprising were the relatively high number of respondents who wanted to ban things in public libraries. A full 22 percent of respondents thought that books containing explicit racism should be banned (to say nothing of other content categories) in public libraries. This willingness to ban books containing racism ignores the fact that many books challenged for racism are written by people of color. These books are simply reflecting the racism that exists in the world.
People who advocate banning books argue for it under the guise of protecting a community, but it seems that often they’re really just uncomfortable with things that deviate from their own lived experience. In 2015, one poll showed that a one-third of respondents did not believe students should have access to the Koran at school. (In the same poll, 29 percent thought the Torah and Talmud should also be disallowed.) The YouGov.com poll shows that 37 percent of respondents thought books with “homosexual or transgender” characters should be banned in elementary school libraries.
Librarians, regardless of where they work specifically, may have a greater fight ahead of them in terms of book challenges. We’re not wrong to argue against them in terms of access and intellectual freedom. But I hope we’re also considering that we are often defending the right for diverse narratives to be seen. Racism, violence, LGBTQ issues, religion — the kind of things people are willing to ban a book for — are not new or wholly foreign concepts. In fact, many people in our country are intimately familiar with these and many other justifications for challenging a book. We need to not only defend these narratives when they’re challenged, but actively champion them and promote them in our libraries.
Sarah Hicks is a current MLIS student at the University of Pittsburgh, and works in a local public library. She has long been passionate about issues regarding intellectual freedom, and believes that these issues are becoming increasingly important worldwide, especially those related to privacy, surveillance, and censorship. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as certain stereotypes about librarians are not wholly untrue, she is both an avid reader (of many genres) and a total cat lady. Sarah can sometimes be found @exactlibrarian.