Close the Book on School Library Censorship


Photo by Singularity Hub

While looking in a library, students can find a book that expands their perspective.

The world is a never-ending current of change. Empires fall, wars rage, and inventions revolutionize life. However, one thing is constant: books. Books are the cornerstone of our society. Nothing compares to the magic of paper and ink expanding our perspective of life. Unfortunately, book banning has also remained consistent through the ages. Books have the power of knowledge, and knowledge is the most vital weapon humans have against ignorance and injustice. From the Catholic Church in 1559 to the Nazi Regime in 1933, banning books has been a method to control the mind of the people. Today, the focus of book banners has turned to schools. Removing controversial books, specifically about race, gender, and sexuality, from school libraries is a critical problem because it enforces censorship and reduces empathy. 

It is essential to understand how books are chosen and challenged in school libraries. Selecting books relies mainly on the judgment of the librarian. Over one million books are published each year in the United States, so the challenge of maintaining a school library can be daunting. Obviously, librarians can’t read every new title, so they rely on reviews and research. Ms. Quist, the Bingham High School Librarian, explains that librarians follow an ethical code to build a representative collection with books covering various topics and perspectives. This policy allows every student to have a voice in their school library. 

However, sometimes a parent or student may be concerned with a book, and they can request its removal. The first step is to fill out a “Request For Reconsideration of Library Media Materials” form. The individual then fills out some basic information and why they want a particular book removed. Next, the Library Media Review Committee, including the librarian and selected district representatives, read the entire work and determine if it should remain on the shelves. A book mustn’t be removed before this whole process is complete, but recently, Canyons School District did not uphold this process.

In 2021, nine books were removed from four high schools in Canyons School District after a parent sent in an email complaint inspired by videos they had seen on social media. Contrary to the passionate objection of the Brighton High librarian and others, the books were removed from shelves before the review process was complete. 

This event is considered censorship. If a parent wants a book removed to protect their child, a parent should have a student in the specific school, only remove the book from that school, and follow all specified procedures. Otherwise, community citizens with no children in the school do not have the right to restrict what students can access. High school students are learning what it means to be an adult in society, and they deserve the intellectual freedom to choose what they read in their school library without censorship. 

But why does this matter? Why are books and libraries so important? One reason is the nature of books to build empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Few things in life can transport you into someone else’s experience as a book can. Unfortunately, many books are targeted for covering topics of race, gender, and sexuality. For example, the book “Beyond Magenta” by Susan Kuklin was one of the books removed from the Canyons School District libraries. This book is a work of nonfiction about six transgender teens. Protecting this book is important because a student who may have never met a transgender individual could open this book and develop a greater understanding of the transgender community. This event is one example of how books expand our empathy for others. 

Ms. Quist summarized her beliefs on this debate as a high school librarian, “Not every book in the library is for every student. Each student can choose for themselves whether or not to read a book. Some books in the library are mirrors, and some are windows, but every student deserves to find themselves in a book.” In this statement, she employed the metaphor of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop that explains some books reflect our own experiences back at us, like a mirror. In contrast, others give us a look into the experiences of others, like a window. Both are vital to creating a society of empathy and acceptance as we build understanding for others. 

High school libraries are an essential place for students to learn and grow. Books can help us find ourselves as well as find understanding for others. School libraries must protect controversial books to prevent censorship and foster empathy. No matter their race, gender, or sexuality, everyone should feel safe and represented when they walk through library doors.