Charlotte Maloney: Librarians lead the fight against censorship

Access to diverse literature can make children more understanding, accepting and loving of everyone.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Four of nine books that have been removed from schools in the Canyons School District and placed under review, Nov. 23, 2021. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin.

It’s not National Library Week or Banned Books Week, but banned books are in the news. As that list seems to be growing, it is a good time to send some love to those fighting against censorship — librarians!

Although Valentine’s Day is normally for star-crossed lovers, local groups are banding together to take a stand against the banning of books and in support of our professional and stalwart librarians. They have joined forces to send Valentine’s Day cards to all school and public libraries throughout the state proclaiming, “Happy Valentine’s Day…We Love Our Librarians.” These are groups like Shirley the Librarian, Utah Citizens for Positive Change, Murray Equity Alliance, Utah Educational Equity Discussion Group, Equity in Education Cache County, 1Utah Project and the CD4 Coalition, among others.

All librarians — school librarians, public librarians, research librarians — are fearless gatekeepers of democracy. They provide free access to information of all kinds and in all kinds of formats to all people. Information is power. As attempts to ban books in Utah and across the country persist, so do the tireless work of librarians.

I grew up in libraries. As a child, Saturdays were spent at the public library where I would immerse myself in books, letting my imagination guide me through wonderful adventures. I worked through school as a library aide shelving a variety of materials from books, music, newspapers and more, and worked my way up to a librarian.

As I held various positions, one of the most important lessons I learned early on was the importance of diversity, inclusion and equity. This was reinforced repeatedly. The job of a librarian is to provide access to information, to answer your question (even when you might not be certain what that question is), provide materials and resources which you seek, regardless of gender, color, status, finances or education.

The current efforts by some to ban books in school and public libraries, however, are the opposite of inclusive. Rather than allowing LGBTQ+ teens to access books in which they identify, some want to “protect” their children from being “exposed” to such books. The irony is that exposing themselves and their children to diverse literature could make them more understanding, accepting and loving of everyone.

Contrary to what the critics say, LGBTQ+ books are exactly what’s necessary in a strong library collection. Those who do not want to read them are free not to do so. Children do not have the same freedom when it comes to guns. While so many kids have been injured and killed in classrooms across the country, the call should be to ban guns, not books.

Reports of Utah’s deep racism repeatedly make headlines. The brave Isabella (Izzy) Tichenor tragically lost her life to suicide after racial bullying. The strong 7th grader in Utah County faced repeated racist bullying from classmates on what should have been a safe bus ride to school. Tragically, it seems that similar stories happen almost weekly. Yet, at the same time, white parents call for a ban on books by Black authors and ones depicting what it is like growing up black in America.

These books include “The Bluest Eye” by Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison. Nationwide, leading challenged books include award winning books like “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian” by Sherman Alexie, and “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. Learning about our history and reading more books by Black and brown authors is exactly what we all need more of, not less.

Libraries provide access to books and materials with which we can identify, and with which we can feel safe and comforted. Libraries are safe spaces where we can be uncomfortable, where we can learn, where we can be challenged and where we can broaden our horizons and our understanding.

I haven’t worked in libraries for many years. I continue to use them regularly, however, and consider libraries in all forms – local, national, virtual – as home, and am grateful to all who keep them.

Charlotte Maloney

Charlotte Maloney, Millcreek, writes social and political commentary. She serves on the board of the CD4 Coalition and has worked in human resource management and as a librarian.