Eau Claire librarians are challenged by book bans

Dorothy Baker, Contributor

Images of L.E Phillips Memorial Public Libraries banned book display during Banned Books Week. These titles were picked for display due to being the Top 10 Banned and Challenged books during the year 2021 according to the American Library Association. (Dorothy Baker)

Book challenges and bans are so common in the U.S that the American Library Association puts out lists of commonly challenged books. Some local libraries reference these lists when assembling banned book displays — like those displayed at Northstar Middle School and L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library.

“These displays help trigger conversations,” said Meg Nord, a library media specialist at Northstar Middle School. For example, students familiar with the book “Charlotte’s Web” would ask Nord about the reasons why it was considered a commonly banned book.

Book challenging is a location-specific process where private individuals (like parents), government officials or organizations request that libraries remove books because they don’t like the content.

The American Library Association attempts to categorize the reasons behind these bans using data from 2020. Books can be challenged for multiple reasons. (Dorothy Baker)

After the library has received a challenge (usually a form that someone with a complaint fills out explaining why the book should be banned), the complaint is reviewed and, if designated as a banned book, removed from that library specifically.

The number of book challenges in 2022 will exceed the 2021 record, according to the American Library Associations’ preliminary report.

While book challenges have been on the rise in recent years, the L.E Phillips Memorial Library in Eau Claire rarely faces challenges, staff there said the library has had about a half dozen challenges in the past 15 years, and has banned no books at this time. 

Nord said the Northstar Middle School banned books list includes only one title “Growing up Trans In Our Own Words” by Lindsay Herriot, Ph.D. and Kate Fry, which is available for check out at the public library. In the last nine years, Nord said the school has only received one other challenge, which didn’t go to review because the challenger chose not to fill out the form. 

“We select a broad assortment of materials that support a variety of readers, a book that’s right for one student is not always right for another, we let them decide,” Nord said. “As a parent, I’m glad you are involved in your children’s reading and you are right to restrict that, however, you can’t decide for someone else.”  

Stephanie Schultz, a research coordinator at the L.E Phillips Memorial Library downtown recommends individuals read what they feel benefits them.

“If you start a book and you find it offensive, you don’t have to keep reading it, but I wouldn’t avoid books just because they’ve been banned,” she said.   

“The harm in banning books comes from taking representations out of libraries and out of places where people should be able to find materials that reflect themselves reflect their lives, their identities, their points of view … a lot of banned books typically are banned because they deal with minorities or marginalized people so it’s definitely and equality and equity issue” she said.

Book bans make it harder for all students and library goers to find books with characters who represent them, experts say. 

“When you ban a book you’re trying to get people not to read it, you’re trying to make it less accessible,” Schultz said. “By putting these titles out there, by talking about banned books, by making them more visible, we are making sure that they don’t just quietly get taken out and fade away.” 

And often, “when it becomes known that a book or other material has been challenged, readership goes up” said Isa Small, programming and communications services manager at the downtown library.  

“Every individual or parent should be able to make those decisions for themselves, and should have the privilege of seeing materials that reflect their beliefs and identities, as well as the advantage of having materials which challenge their understanding of the world,” Small said.  

Because the library wants to support a variety of readers, Schultz reminds writers, “We’re always looking to broaden our collection and find books and other materials that represent all members of our community. So if you want to write about something, especially if it’s something that there isn’t a lot of material about, most libraries will appreciate that.”