It’s been a rough few years for books.
In 2022, The American Library Association documented 1,269 requests to remove books from libraries across the United States – the most the organization ever recorded.
Those requests sought to remove 2,571 book titles.
Texas had the most books challenged with a total of 2,349, with Florida coming in second with 991 books challenged.
According to the ALA’s research, the most-targeted books told stories of the LGBTQ+ community, and some people complained they were too sexually explicit or obscene.
“It was a disgrace,” Joann Colonna said. “It was pornography.”
Colanna was one of the concerned residents who were urging the Osceola County school district in Florida to remove four books: “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” “Looking for Alaska,” “Out of Darkness” and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”
They claimed these books were too sexually explicit.
Other books were criticized in other areas for making some children feel uncomfortable.
“Ruby Bridges: This Is Your Time” tells the story of a 6-year-old Black girl who desegregated an all-white school in Louisiana.
The book has been challenged in several states, and in some places, it has been completely pulled from the shelves.
Vanessa Bryant’s battle to keep some books away from children got emotional as she spoke to the Osceola County school board during public comment. She used to teach school in the district.
“Our children are being taught to hate white children,” she said. “Our teachers are being trained in Critical Race Theory, and they are being trained. The reading coaches were trained. I have been begging, but let me tell you something. I am so tired of begging because I’m seeing this filth. We have the books. We shouldn’t have to fill out a 20-page report to get them removed. You should never have them.”
Moms for Liberty
In some communities, the organization Moms for Liberty has been spearheading these efforts.
“My partner and I – we’re a two-mom household – and we still are conservative when it comes to this information,” Tia Bess said.
Bess is the national director of engagement for Moms For Liberty, and she said removing some books from school libraries is a solution.
“It’s part of the solution,” she said. “I don’t believe they should be readily available to go pick it up without your parents’ knowledge of knowing you have this information. You can’t go watch an R-rated movie unless you have someone 18 and up. You can’t go into a store to buy a Hustler magazine or a Penthouse. It’s adult content. So, why is it OK for a fifth- or sixth-grader just to go check out this information and these books without their parents’ knowledge?”
She used the book “A Court of Mist and Fury” as an example.
“There are sex scenes in this book that are a little bit more graphic than ‘50 Shades of Grey,’” she said. “Me, personally, I don’t want my daughter having this information.”
As an African-American woman, she said he has received pushback on her stance on books.
“I’ve been called an Uncle Tom,” she said. “I’ve been called a token and a house negro. I had a school board member in Duval County refer to me by name on a podcast interview that she was doing, and she called me a token person that Moms for Liberty parades around because she has a special needs son.”
More than half of the requests to remove books across the country – 51% – were made to school libraries, according to ALA. The rest went to public libraries.
One retired librarian said pulling books from libraries is not a solution – it’s actually the problem.
“One of the things that really bothers me is that people say we don’t want our children to be exposed to this, but who gets to say about your children?” Deborah Dubois asked. “I can say about my children, you can say about your children, but I have no right to tell you what your children should be able to read. That’s your job, not my job, and as a librarian, it’s not my job, either.”
The local government where Dubois lives in Volusia County, Florida, proposed having a say in which books make it into the public library.
“How do we monitor what kind of books are actually being put in our libraries?” Volusia County Councilmember Don Dempsey asked. “How can we monitor the materials that are put in the library, so that we can – if we have something that’s controversial – that we could vote on it, or this board could vote on it? How do we monitor what’s been given to our kids?”
“It’s not appropriate for them to be that involved in day-to-day operations,” Dubois said. “Usually, an oversight board sets policy, and then you let the professionals who work at the organization do the day-to-day operations, and if they have concerns, they bring it o the head of the library, or whoever’s in charge.”
Two weeks later, the proposal was dropped.
Keeping books in libraries
For now, part of the solution to keeping books in circulation is grassroots. Some bookstores have set up displays featuring some of the titles that have been banned.
When a Palm Bay, Florida, teacher was asked to remove Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” from his curriculum because of parent complaints, the founder of the Vonnegut Museum stepped in and donated 1,000 free copies.
“We don’t teach ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ to 5-year-olds,” said Julia Whitehead, founder of the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library. “We do teach ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ to high school students. Yes, there’s profanity. Yes, there’s sexual content in that book, but we shouldn’t be censoring that. It’s very disappointing.”
So, for some parents, removing some books from libraries solves a problem, but it creates concerns for other parents and some teachers.
“These are important books,” said Adam Tritt, a teacher in Brevard County, Florida. “They are important for their ability to think critically. They’re important for their ability to understand the world they live in.”
Part of that solution includes bookstores and communities donating some of these pulled books to make sure they get read.
“What you think might be inappropriate for your children might be exactly what my children need to read,” Dubois said.
This article is part of “Solutionaries,” our continuing commitment to solutions journalism, highlighting the creative people in communities working to make the world a better place, one solution at a time. Find out what you can do to help at SolutionariesNetwork.com.