Access to diverse literature can make children more understanding, accepting, and loving of everyone.
It’s not National Library Week or Banned Books Week, but banned books are making headlines. As this list seems to be growing, it’s a good time to send some love to those who fight against censorship – librarians!
Although Valentine’s Day is normally reserved for star-crossed lovers, local groups are banding together to take a stand against the book ban and to support our professional and loyal librarians. They joined forces to send Valentine’s Day cards to all school and public libraries in 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 guardians 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 does the tireless work of librarians.
I grew up in libraries. As a child, Saturdays were spent at the municipal library where I immersed myself in books, letting my imagination guide me through wonderful adventures. I worked at school as a library assistant storing a variety of materials ranging from books, music, newspapers and more, and worked my way up to become a librarian.
As I have held various positions, one of the most important lessons I learned early on was the importance of diversity, inclusion and equity. This has been reinforced several times. A librarian’s job is to provide access to information, answer your question (even when you may not be sure what that question is), provide the materials and resources you are looking for, regardless of your gender, color, status, finances or education.
Current efforts by some to ban books from school and public libraries run counter to inclusion, however. Rather than allowing LGBTQ+ teens access to books they identify with, some want to “protect” their children from being “exposed” to such books. The irony is that exposing themselves and their children to diverse literature might make them more understanding, tolerant, and loving toward everyone.
Contrary to what critics say, LGBTQ+ books are exactly what is needed in a strong library. Those who do not want to read them are free not to. Children do not have the same freedom when it comes to firearms. When so many children 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. Brave Isabella (Izzy) Tichenor tragically lost her life by suicide after being racially bullied. The tough 7th grader from Utah County was repeatedly racially bullied by classmates on what should have been a safe bus ride to school. Tragically, it seems like similar stories are happening almost every week. Yet at the same time, white parents are calling for black-authored books and books describing what it’s like to grow up black in America to be banned.
These books include “The Blueest Eye” by Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison. Major nationally challenged books include award-winning books such as “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” by Ibrahim 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 our history and reading more books by black and brown authors is exactly what we all need more of, not less of.
Libraries provide access to books and materials that we can relate to 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 expand our horizons and understanding.
I haven’t worked in libraries for many years. However, I continue to use them regularly and consider libraries in all their forms – local, national, virtual – as my home, and I am grateful to all who keep them.
Charlotte Maloney, Millcreek, writes social and political commentary. She sits on the board of directors of the CD4 Coalition and has worked in human resources management and as a librarian.