New e-book from Utah Library Advocates tackles book censorship issue in schools
“The library was my safe haven.”
That’s a phrase Peter Bromberg, co-chair of the Utah Library Association, has heard several times over the course of his career. But in recent months, schools have become a political battleground for censorship.
Utah librarians and community leaders gathered Tuesday morning at the Salt Lake City Library to release their new e-book on the issue and express their support for inclusive and open access to books.
“There are increasing calls to hold librarians, teachers and school and library board members, both criminally and civilly liable for making books available — books that are protected by the First Amendment,” Bromberg said.
Removing books from schools has been a growing issue and concern as more parents and lawmakers have called for — and in some instances, been triumphant — in doing so.
According to the American Library Association, there’s been a 60% increase since last year in book challenges nationwide.
The 20-page e-book published by the Utah Library Advocates — “Utah Libraries: Keystone of Healthy Democracy, Student Success, and Prosperous Communities” — aims to address the censorship issue.
It also has a guide to help parents or caretakers talk to their kids about difficult topics that might be presented in books. It contains a list of conversation starters and a section on frequently asked questions about book challenges, and actions that Utahns can take to oppose censorship.
Bromberg said the book aims to help people understand the role of libraries in protecting their First Amendment freedoms and providing access to a wide range of ideas and perspectives for all Utahns.
“In the community, there's always a push-pull and a tug of war between people's value systems and things like that,” Bromberg said. “All we can do is try to move the conversation forward in a way that's positive, constructive, helpful and aligned with our Democratic values and also in a way that's going to help parents to help their kids be successful.”
Rita Christensen, president of the Utah Library Association, said they are united in this continued fight against censorship in state libraries.
“I stand before you as a representative of every librarian and every library in the state of Utah,” Christensen said. “Librarians are united and unwavering in their support of the First Amendment that guarantees all Utahns five basic freedoms ... freedom of speech is the key principle that upholds our democracy.”
Most of the books being challenged are centered around marginalized identities like LGBTQ+ and people of color. These books are criticized for being inappropriate or having explicit language and references.
Amanda Darrow, director of youth, family and education at the Utah Pride Center, said one of the books that was recently challenged in the Murray School District was a picture book titled “Call Me Max.” The story follows a transgender boy navigating his experiences at school with his new identity.
Darrow said a large criticism the book received was that sex was being taught in a third grade classroom. She said it becomes dangerous to tie LGBTQ characters to that idea when the book was actually discussing gender identity.
“When our identities are left out and LGBTQIA+ students face a heteronormative school environment [and] censorship, the consequences are as follows: lower academic achievement, bullying, lack of family support, feelings of invisibility, social exclusion, mental health problems and suicidality,” she said. “We owe it to our LGBTQIA+ students to ensure that they are represented in our schools.”