Librarians prepare to continue efforts to ban books

LEWISTON — This school year — for the first time in Gena Marker’s 14 years as a librarian — two books have been pulled from her shelves.

Marker, the librarian at Centennial High School in Boise, was able to hand over these books – Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe and This book is gay by Juno Dawson – to an LGBTQ teenager who deeply appreciated them. But this school year, Marker won’t have the same opportunity because those titles are now banned on campus.

Marker moderated a panel discussion on Book Challenges, Censorship, and Student Service Wednesday at the Idaho Commission for Libraries Summer Summit Conference.

The conversation was timely, after a legislative session where the types of books on library shelves became a flashpoint. The library commission’s budget was threatened due to a controversy over whether children in Idaho could access what some lawmakers considered “obscene” reading materials (the budget bill finally passed). And the legislators introduced a bill (which did not become law) that would see librarians, teachers and museum staff fined and/or imprisoned for disseminating “material harmful to minors”.

And districts in Idaho are banning books, sometimes in large numbers – the Nampa School District has made the controversial decision to pull 22 pounds off its shelves this year.

Wednesday’s panel aimed to foster conversation about how to navigate the growing calls for censorship in libraries.

“It’s easy to feel personal despair over book-related challenges,” Marker said. “I was considered a peddler of pornography by providing access to these books.”

Marker said the process that led to the removal of the two books from its shelves – both of which are on the American Library Association’s list of libraries Top 10 most disputed books of 2021 – was long and complicated. But for librarians, such processes are likely to be the new normal.

“Would I do it again in the name of intellectual freedom? You bet,” she said of her efforts to protect the titles. “Will I do it again in the near future? Most likely.”

Librarians Prepare for Continued Efforts to Ban Books by Creating Clear Policies and Processes

Librarians across the state are revamping their policies and processes in anticipation of new attempts to ban books.

Typically, here’s what happens when a parent or customer challenges a book:

  • Most districts ask them to fill out a form like this one detailing their concerns.
  • Some districts are temporarily removing titles while they are being reviewed; others leave them in circulation until a decision is made.
  • The complaint is reviewed by a panel which ultimately decides whether to withdraw the book.
    • The panel may include a librarian and/or teacher, administrator, district official, parents, and students. The complainant and the teacher/librarian most involved are sometimes excluded, but can attend the hearing and give their opinion.
  • The complainant can sometimes appeal the decision. At that point it would probably go to a second committee or the school board. This decision would be final.

Julie Briggs, district library coordinator for the Bonneville Joint School District in Idaho Falls, said it was important that affected customers read the entire book in question and not base their complaints on “passages taken out of their context”.

She also pointed out that a third outcome of the book challenge — in addition to retaining or banning a text — is to move the book to another more age-appropriate grade level. This school year, Briggs said her district moved a book from the elementary library and placed it in the middle school library.

Last fall, Briggs created a procedure for book challenges in her district, and she’s grateful she did because it made the process easier.

In the face of public mistrust, librarians also strive to build strong community relationships.

Building rapport helps dispel mistrust and invites conversation

Natasha Rush, a teacher-librarian at Boise High School, said she does everything she can to get out into the community and build relationships, whether it’s scoring points at basketball games -ball, take lessons or participate in games at assemblies. Being part of the community makes in-person civil conversations more likely if a parent becomes uncomfortable with a book, she said.

His efforts seem to be paying off.

This school year, a parent approached her with concerns about a book called we are the ants by Shaun David Hutchinson. Rush discussed options with the parent. They could start the official process and procedure for disputing the books, or she could make an electronic note so that the parent’s child cannot view the book.

That way, she told the parent, “you can make the parenting decision for your child and not for another.”

The parent didn’t realize that was an option and decided to add the note instead of asking for the title to be removed permanently.

“I’ve had a lot of interactions like that with parents,” Rush said.

And it’s not just parents who question titles. Rush recalled a time when students visiting the library were appalled to see a biography of former President Donald Trump.

“Yes,” she told them. “Libraries have information about everything.”

Various books help students find their belonging and better understand others

Kiersten Kerr, teacher-librarian at Coeur d’Alene High School, said it’s imperative that libraries have a wide range of reading materials available to students.

“By giving choices, students can find something to relate to,” she said. “Students want to see themselves in what they read and know that they are not alone, even if they feel alone in their school.

In her library, she hopes the school’s 1,600 students can find a book that reflects them, whether it’s about race, gender identity, family life, mental health, homelessness, trauma or any other aspect of their lived experiences.

“The dominant social groups have always been reflected, but [those groups] may not know as much about others,” she said. “Regardless of the demographics of a community, students have a lot to learn about other people and groups.

Rush agrees that library collections should have something for everyone.

“I’m going to chain myself to my books,” she said. “I don’t care, I want every person to be reflected.”

To view your district’s policies on topics such as challenge processes, academic freedom, library, and instructional materials, visit their website and navigate to the school boards section. You should see a link to board policies. Most policies related to these topics will be filed under “instruction”.

About Carly Flandro

Journalist Carly Flandro works in the East Idaho bureau of EdNews. A former high school English teacher, she writes about teaching, learning, diversity and equity. You can follow Flandro on Twitter @idahoedcarly and send him topical tips at [email protected]

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