Facing Book Bans: A Meetup Recap

Book challenges and bans have increased dramatically in recent years, and librarians often find themselves in the center of the fray. Whether circulating a book about two male penguins raising a chick together or a singable story about a drag queen, libraries strive to remain universally accessible institutions promoting free and open access to resources and information amidst intimidating community backlash. But what happens when community members voice concerns about specific materials and those materials are forced to be removed from shelves? What happens when legislation becomes involved in these decisions? These were the topics of CLEL’s most recent meetup.

Twelve CLEL members joined together on May 21, 2024 to discuss book banning in general and how it is affecting each of our individual communities. While not everyone has experienced the formal upheaval seen at Douglas County Libraries last year, nearly all had some sort of story to tell about a customer interaction regarding strong feelings about a particular book. And as Pride month is rapidly approaching, there is some apprehension about the impact of Pride displays on community members in general.

Luckily, many library systems have policies in place to support the purchasing and displaying of materials that encompass and support readers from all backgrounds. In fact, recent Colorado legislation reinforces policies set forth by library systems to provide further guidelines when it comes to the process of banning books. And as conversations about book bans continue to occur, they have given libraries the opportunity to clarify and firm up their own policies to better weather the community onslaught that can sometimes occur.

Unfortunately, not every state in the union has a government that supports the intellectual freedom championed by libraries. Florida and Arkansas have seen severe punishments threatened for librarians who do not remove banned books, though legislation in Florida has adjusted some of the rules about banning books in recent months. Nebraska also nearly saw a law passed that would have punished librarians for providing “obscene” materials to youth.

Even John Oliver is getting in on the book banning conversation.

While it is not clear whether acts of legislation criminalizing the activities of librarians are designed to instill fear or to actually put librarians behind bars, they are causing many library champions to carefully consider their work and what is important to them.

Is there any silver lining to the topic of book bans? It can be argued that people who intentionally check out items of which they disapprove are nevertheless enhancing the circulation status of those items. Also, as conversations surround specific titles, those books ultimately live a longer life in print because of the press being generated about them.

No matter where someone works within the library, they have likely encountered one or more of these situations:

  • Customer complaining about one or more items in the collection
  • Customer turning a book around or otherwise hiding a book they do not approve of
  • Customer checking out all of a certain type of book to prevent others from accessing those materials
  • Community members speaking out in board meetings or other library events
  • Customers complaining about library programming

What happens when a customer approaches a librarian with one or more concerns? What happens when the information they happen to have is either limited or incomplete? It can be immensely fatiguing to field comments across the spectrum as librarians find themselves being pulled from one direction to the other. Hopefully, there are supportive teammates and leadership at those library systems providing librarians with the ability to find adequate self care as they move through these types of situations.

Some of the book titles discussed in today’s meetup are included here:

  • Bye Bye Binary by Eric Geron
  • Making a Baby by Rachel Greener
  • You Are the Color Ebeid Rifk
  • And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
  • The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish by Lil Miss Hot Mess

  • If you need more resources or support regarding book bannings in your library or your area, here are a few:

    CLEL is also a support in this realm, especially as many CLEL members manage conversations like these every day. Please reach out if you need additional guidance or support from our membership.

    If you did not get a chance to complete the survey following this meetup, you can access it again here.

    Thank you all for your valuable contributions, and we look forward to our upcoming meetup conversation about serving neurodiverse families in July. Put it on your calendar today!