In 1979, I was the editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper, and I had the scoop of my young journalistic career. Through a source that may or may not have been my mother, a library aide at the elementary school, I found out that books were being quietly removed from the shelves when parents complained without following the division procedures that required a public review. The division library supervisor agreed to be interviewed and provided a strong quote about how much she abhorred this kind of censorship. Just a few days from publishing when she called us at home and asked to have the quote removed. I was angry and disappointed but ended up doing what she requested. The article still ran and may have led to change. But I learned a lesson about power and politics.
Now, power and politics are publicly flaunting censorship, using the law to ban books, emptying the shelves of books by authors from Mary Wollstonecraft to Ruby Bridges with a special focus on those that feature LGBTQ+ characters and issues. Burning books has always been a favorite of fascists and fanatics, fearing the freedom that comes from access to the world of knowledge. In this case, it continues the eradication campaign being carried out by those who are threatened by the mere existence of people with different lives and ideas.
When I taught middle school, I had an extensive and diverse classroom library that supported my reading workshops , and I wonder how many of those books would pass muster, especially when it seems that one complaint can lead to removals for everyone, even if the complainer does not have children in the schools and admits to not having read the whole book. Some of the families that aren’t usually included in the “family-friendly” policies are beginning to push back.
At least, in our web-based world, banning books is much more challenging as we can access virtual shelves. Wollstonecraft along with most of the banned classics can be found at Project Gutenberg. The Internet Archive includes books and lots of other media.* Brooklyn Public Library has been offering library cards for teens across the country to access their banned books. Public libraries offer extensive access to digital resources, providing a level of anonymity for people who may not want to go to the checkout desk at their local branch.
This is all very concerning, frightening really, as these fanatical conservatives seem to be holding lots of cards (read state legislatures and the Supreme Court) right now. This video from Clara via Fifty Shades of Whey is a horrifying summary of the past few months. With all the noise and news and silly stuff, it can be easy to lose the plot of what is happening. Watch and weep and then get started on the work.
*Including an extensive Grateful Dead archive, a band that was often “banned” including after an infamous concert at The College of William and Mary in 1978.