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The Intellectual Freedom Round Table (IFRT) provides a forum for the discussion of activities, programs, and problems in intellectual freedom of libraries and librarians.

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  • 1.  Book banners and burners

    Past LITA President
    Posted Nov 11, 2021 07:45 AM

    From Aaron Blake's article in yesterday's Washington post:

    Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin (R) had attacked McAuliffe for, as governor, vetoing a bill to allow parents to opt their children out of reading assignments they deem to be explicit. The impetus was a famous book from Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, "Beloved," about an enslaved Black woman who kills her 2-year-old daughter to prevent her from being enslaved herself.

    While that effort took place years ago, it was rekindled as a political issue at a telling time. Not only are conservatives increasingly targeting school curriculums surrounding race, but there's also a building and often-related effort to rid school libraries of certain books.

    The effort has been varied in the degree of its fervor and the books it has targeted, but one particular episode this week showed just what can happen when it's taken to its extremes. Shortly after the election result in Virginia, a pair of conservative school board members in the same state proposed not just banning certain books deemed to be sexually explicit, but burning them.

    As the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star reported Tuesday:

    Two board members, Courtland representative Rabih Abuismail and Livingston representative Kirk Twigg, said they would like to see the removed books burned.
    "I think we should throw those books in a fire," Abuismail said, and Twigg said he wants to "see the books before we burn them so we can identify within our community that we are eradicating this bad stuff."

    Abuismail reportedly added that allowing one particular book to remain on the shelves even briefly meant the schools "would rather have our kids reading gay pornography than about Christ."

    It's easy to caricature a particular movement with some of its most extreme promoters. And there is a demonstrated history of efforts to ban books in schools, including by liberals. Such efforts have often involved classics such as "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Of Mice and Men" for their depictions of race and use of racist language more commonly used at the time the books were written. More recently, conservatives have often challenged books teaching kids about LGBTQ issues.But advocates say what's happening now is more pronounced.

    "What has taken us aback this year is the intensity with which school libraries are under attack," said Nora Pelizzari, a spokeswoman at the National Coalition Against Censorship.

    She added that the apparent coordination of the effort sets it apart: "Particularly when taken in concert with the legislative attempts to control school curricula, this feels like a more overarching attempt to purge schools of materials that people disagree with. It feels different than what we've seen in recent years."

    Even as the news broke Tuesday in Virginia, another school board just outside Wichita, announced that it was removing 29 books from circulation. Among them were another Morrison book, "The Bluest Eye," and writings about racism in America including August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Fences," as well as "They Called Themselves the K.K.K.," a history of the white supremacist group. The books haven't technically been banned, but rather aren't available for checking out pending a review.

    Michael Gorman
    Chicago, Illinois