On Jan. 3, Fogler Library at the University of Maine hosted a talk on the controversy of book challenges in high school curriculums and libraries in the United States. An issue that may seem forgotten, book challenges and book bannings are still prevalent in school districts around the country. The Fogler Library’s talk was intended to raise awareness as to why books might be challenged and what we can do to help ensure that literature is preserved in our community.
The talk was led by librarians Lindsey Decker, Amber Gray and Nancy Lewis. They shed light on how their jobs are done as well as how they leave their personal opinion out of what people are reading.
“If somebody wants something to read we just give it to them,” Decker said.
This makes the job more difficult than it may seem. Someone could be checking out a book that has explicit content in it which may concern a librarian, for example, but they must not let their opinions influence the accessibility of a library. Librarians research their inventory for a specific reason, but what they purchase doesn’t always go well over with everyone.
“According to the American Library Association, a book challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials based on the opinion of a person or group. A book ban is when it is removed from collection,” Lewis explained.
Many books have been challenged in school curriculums. For example, “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Diary of A Young Girl” are two of the books most challenged to be taught in schools. Books are challenged for a variety of reasons. One main reason for a more contemporary outlook would be LGBTQ content such as in the book “All Boys Aren’t Blue.” Books have also been banned because they are too violent like “Beloved,” or are sexually explicit or crude such as “Lolita.” Books can be challenged by anyone if the books conflict with personal or religious beliefs as to what should be taught in schools.
For some people, books are how they learn about the world and learn about social issues. In rural places where there is little internet, ideas may be recycled and stuck within a circle with little to no change. Books allow people to explore an alternate reality to what they know.
“People see themselves reflected in the book they read,” Gray said.
The things we read shape the future of generations. Books such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Diary of A Young Girl” have been challenged for decades. Their reasons for being challenged change as generations change, but they are still being challenged, which says a lot about the content of the books and the impact the books have made in society. They are challenging a particular idea and that threatens people.
What was interesting about the talk is that one would believe the era of banned books and book challenges was long gone. People tend to forget, though, that some problems are never solved, they are just hidden from public view.
“People like to believe we are long gone from the challenge of books,” first-year student Emma Ford said.
According to the Library Association, there have been approximately six books challenged in 2023 throughout Maine. There were 14 being challenged in 2022. On the national level, there were approximately 3,500 books challenged in 2022. A few of the books books that were challenged in 2023 was “Milk and Honey” for being sexually explicit, “The Hate U Give” for being against the police and “Gender Queer: A Memoir” for promoting LGBTQ perspectives.
The talk was very interesting and worthy of awareness, however, the topic is incredibly dense and everything cannot fit into an hour-long talk. Fogler Library would like to host more talks in the future and would love to hear opinions from students about what they would like to hear from the library.
The Fogler Library is currently holding a scavenger hunt. Check out the front desk to get a green slip and turn it in for a chance to win bookstore gift cards.