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Opinion: Public libraries next censorship battleground

After their successful efforts to sanitize school libraries and classrooms, the censorship crowd is gunning for public libraries. The salvos, which have been going on sporadically for years, are intensifying as these practitioners become more emboldened and librarians and members of library boards are becoming more and more concerned.

Some schools have given up on libraries entirely or are downsizing or modifying what school libraries will look like in the future. The reasons most frequently given have to do with costs and the belief that youngsters rely more exclusively on online research.

As Tamaqua Superintendent Raymond Kinder Jr. said in announcing at a recent school board meeting that the district’s libraries are being downsized and changed to reflect current usage, “Students do not take out the Encyclopaedia Britannica anymore.”

Some poorer districts, such as Panther Valley, gave up on libraries years ago. Some districts just don’t want the hassle of frequent controversies over which books and materials are included in their stacks.

Self-anointed groups with high-minded names such as “Moms for Liberty,” “Heritage Action for America,” “Committee to Save the Children” and “Stamp Out Sin in Our Schools” have sprung up all over the nation to challenge public school curricula. If it doesn’t pass their sniff test, they want it removed from the innocent eyes of students for fear that theirs and our kids might learn about thorny racism and gender issues, “dirty” words and topics that are branded “controversial” by them.

Flush with significant victories going after material viewed as unacceptable for school-age children and having convinced school boards and state legislators of their righteousness, the censorship efforts next turn toward public libraries.

Throughout history, there have been countless efforts to ban books that some groups found to be inappropriate for children, even for some adults, but this new wave marks an intensity rarely seen before where legislators are buying into the concept and passing legislation to institutionalize these extreme censorship measures.

The theme of 2021’s Banned Books Week was “Books Unite Us; Censorship Divides Us.” If it could, censorship advocates would turn that theme on its ear to be “Censorship unites us; some books divide us.”

I was looking at some of the prominent novels that have been recently banned in school and public libraries. At the top of the list is “Maus,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the horrors of the Holocaust. It is unique in that it uses the cartoon as the vehicle to make its point. The Nazis are cats; the Jews are mice. The book by Art Spiegelman was removed from the graphic arts curriculum in a Tennessee school earlier this year as the McMinn County School Board decried its “rough, objectionable language.”

As with many banned books which get national attention, “Maus” has been flying off the shelves of bookstores and selling out on platforms such as amazon.com. “Maus” was published in 1986, and the comic style used in its presentation opened the floodgates to other authors who are now using this format to address important and sometimes controversial topics.

LGBTQIA (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual) books are being banned in unprecedented numbers. Some of the most singled out children’s books being censored are “Uncle Bobby’s Wedding,” “In Our Mothers’ House,” “My Princess Boy” and “Tango Makes Three” (the story of two male penguins who make a family).

If you want to be shocked, you need only check the 10 most banned books of all time. At the top of the list is George Orwell’s “1984,” which I am sure that, as I, many of you have read either in school or elsewhere. Orwell’s dystopian novel warns of the dangers of totalitarianism and a world governed by propaganda, surveillance and censorship.

Following on the banned list are: “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain, “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger, “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker, “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou, “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding, “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey and “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee.

In some cases, books are not being removed from libraries but are being placed in special, secured sections where those who are deemed too young to borrow them must present a note or authorization from a parent or guardian.

Groups have mobilized to fight back. Some have enlisted the help of the American Civil Liberties Union to challenge some of these new laws or edicts in court,

The scary part of all of this is that Pennsylvania schools have banned books more often than every other state except Texas - 456 over a recent nine-month period, according to Pen America, a nonprofit group whose aim is to protect writers’ freedom of speech.

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.