Lit: Speaking Out About Banning Books

News of book bannings are on the rise across the border

By Saara Itkonen, Library Director, Creston Valley Public Library

So you wanna ban books, huh?

The news has been a little bleak in library land lately with book bannings on the rise across the border and one Michigan library even defunding the whole library system, rather than allowing patrons to access LGBTQ2IA+ books and materials. You may have also heard that there have been a slew of book bannings in various other states and school districts in the US, but, what you may not have heard is that, there have been various recent attempted challenges to library programming and collections here in BC.

In June, Sechelt library had to hire extra security and request police presence at a Drag Queen storytime event after staff were threatened with violence. There was some news coverage of the situation, which was reminiscent of a similar situation that the Okanagan Regional Library faced in 2020. In both cases, after the publicity even more community members came out to support the events and everything went off peacefully in the end.

What didn’t make the news, however, was a recent letter that Smithers Public Library, and several other libraries in B.C., received threatening legal action for collecting LGBTQ2IA+ materials that allegedly “expose minors to sexually explicit, pornographic, and inappropriate teachings, materials, and activities.” The complaint included a list of the offending materials (Thank you for the free collection development help! We’ll be sure to order them all. Just kidding, we already have most of them in our collection) that included many well-reviewed, age-appropriate, and inclusive queer titles, as well as several award winning titles.

You see, this particular moral panic isn’t new. Public libraries have always occasionally received challenges to our materials, which is why we have collection policies and specific procedures in place to handle them when they come up. But beyond that, as information professionals, we also spend a lot of time thinking about and discussing our responsibilities when it comes to freedom of information and equity and diversity.

Recently, I was actually able to take part in a panel discussing intellectual freedom for library director professional development. Public libraries are a unique institution where we don’t just discuss what constitutes intellectual freedom but where we have to draw the line anew every day depending on the situation that comes up. Sometimes it’s a group booking a room to amplify transphobic messages or sometimes it’s a racist book (that, thankfully, is so poorly written that you would never bother paying for the staff time to add it to the collection).

For myself, the line of true intellectual freedom does not exist in a vacuum, magically free of context, history, or power structures. It must always balance with the needs of the most vulnerable in our community. Homophobia, transphobia, racism, bigotry are all present in our community, and those of us who are the targets of this abuse surely need a little more support, a little more attention, than those who are not. So, in order to support true equity at the library we spend a little more of our budget to purchase materials and run programs that help our vulnerable community members feel a little more seen, a little more safe, a little more supported.

The library’s strategic framework states that we will “listen and learn from members of our community who are experiencing the effects of bigotry and racism” and that we’ll “identify and remove barriers to service” and “provide equitable access to services that enable our patrons to better participate in our community.” Which, ultimately means that we “value the humanity of each of our patrons and the community as a whole,” and we give a helping hand to those who need it, just so they can experience the type of acceptance and understanding that we should all have access to. In other words, we put our collection money where our mouth is.

Upcoming events:

• Lego Day – for school aged children – Tuesdays at 3:15 p.m.

• Family Storytime – for young children and their caregivers – Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m.

READ MORE: Lit: Are You a Friend of the Library?

ColumnColumnistCreston Valley