SOUTH INDIANA — The book banning debate has intensified across the country, but Librarian Jen Weidner points out that the Jeffersonville Township Public Library doesn’t just keep banned books on the shelves, but ‘it also sheds light on the documents that have been challenged.
“Over the past couple of years, it’s really come to the fore – I don’t think anyone should be telling anyone else what they can and can’t read,” she said. “The First Amendment gives us that right.”
This week is Banned Books Week, and across southern Indiana, libraries have held exhibits celebrating books that have been challenged or banned. This includes the Floyd County Library, Jeffersonville Township Public Library, and Charlestown-Clark County Public Library.
Mickey’s, a local second-hand bookstore and cafe in New Albany, is also highlighting its selection of banned books this week.
Banned Books Week is an annual awareness campaign promoted by organizations such as the American Library Association (ALA) and Amnesty International. The week celebrates “freedom to read,” according to the Banned Books Week website.
According to the ALA, there were 729 challenges to documents in libraries, schools and universities in 2021, including 1,597 individual books. This is the highest number the organization has reported since it began tracking book challenges 20 years ago.
So far this year, 681 challenges have attempted to ban or restrict documents, including 1,651 individual books. The majority of the top 10 contested or banned books in 2021 were books written by and/or focused on LGBTQ+ people and people of color.
Weidner, assistant reference librarian at the Jeffersonville Township Public Library, said the library’s various banned book exhibits were created in early September during a celebration of ‘banned books month’ instead of a week. only.
Banned books were the subject of two recent episodes of the library’s “In the Stacks” podcast, co-hosted by Weidner. She noted advice from the ALA, which calls on libraries to challenge censorship and provide “all perspectives on current and historical issues” in its materials.
“There’s a saying that every good library has something to offend everyone,” she says. “There are books here that I would never want to consult, that I would never want to read, but hey, I’m not going to try to ban them or take them off the shelves.”
It’s up to parents to decide what’s best for their own children to read, and if they’re concerned about what their children are reading, she encourages parents to come to the library with their child to explain why. they don’t want them to. read the material, Weidner said.
It’s not the role of librarians to “monitor what people are reading,” she says.
Mickey Ball, owner of Mickey’s Bookstore, highlights books such as “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey and “The Satanic Verses” by Salman Rushdie on its shelves. He sold many books throughout the week, and he continues to add to the display.
“Some of them deal with race or gender and different things, and now it seems like a lot (of the challenges) are LGBTQ+ oriented, and there have been a lot of schools in Texas that have banned books like that,” Ball said. “For us, it’s censorship where people miss out on really good literary and/or non-fiction works.”
One of the books Mickey’s sold this week is EB White’s “Charlotte’s Web,” which was banned because the depiction of talking animals was considered blasphemous.
Weidner said she was not aware of any challenges regarding the Jeffersonville Township Public Library materials.
“If someone wanted to come and challenge some material, that’s fine, that’s your right,” she said. “We have a form you can fill out. But my thing, and I always joke, if you want to try to challenge or ban a book, I’m gonna need you to read that whole book, I’m gonna need you to write me an article and tell me which passage or which page until the sentence or until the word which offended you.
She also noted the introduction this year of an LGBTQ+ section at the library, which has received a positive response. At the Jeffersonville Library, setting up special exhibits for Banned Books, LGBTQ+ Books, and Black History Month shows people that “they are included” and that “representation matters,” she said.
“My thing is, if this book saves a person’s life, it’s worth all the kickback in the world,” Weidner said.
At the Floyd County Library, a board in the teen section features a wide array of banned books. The section is titled “Azka-banned”, and the decorative display references Azkaban, the fictional prison from “Harry Potter”, as well as the Dementors, creatures guarding the prison.
Some of the books in the library exhibit are partially covered in brown paper bags, and it features a series of “wanted” posters with banned book names.
Luis Munoz, Marketing and Digital Outreach Coordinator at the Floyd County Library, described the banned books section as an “engrossing presentation.” He said some of the most difficult books of all time are classics that “teach great lessons and have great literary value,” including George Orwell’s “1984,” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” and “To Kill a Mockingbird”. by Harper Lee.
“Banned Books Week is about celebrating the freedom to read and highlighting the value of free and open access to information and books,” Munoz said.
He said the Floyd County Library has received challenges due to concerns about the collection’s graphic novels aimed at older readers. The library’s approach has not been to remove these titles, but rather to inform patrons of the recommended age ranges for these particular books.
“It was about misconceptions about the age range for materials, and it was an opportunity for us to better educate readers,” Munoz said. “We encourage that kind of feedback, and we’re really transparent about our collection.”
Weidner said efforts to stop people from reading contested books often have the opposite effect.
“I don’t think these people who try to ban books and challenge books realize that it just makes people want to read them more,” she said. “When you tell someone not to do something, they will do the opposite.”
For Weidner, providing access to banned and contested books shows that the library is a safe place “for everyone”.
“I don’t care what your socioeconomic status is, I don’t care if you’re LGBTQIA+, I don’t care what color you are — come to the library,” she said.