Often books that are banned from public forums like libraries are materials meant to educate and are seen to have the ability to increase empathy.
Linda Rea, former director of the Hastings Public Library and president of the Hastings League of Women Voters, spoke about censorship and book banning at a Women’s League forum on Zoom on Friday. Rea worked at Hastings Public Library from 1976 to 2008.
She included examples from several states where school boards and state governments have attempted or succeeded in restricting the materials.
Rea quoted Amanda Jennings, a senior at Ronald Reagan High School in San Antonio, who spoke about removing books during a school board meeting in December 2021.
“She argued that learning from the experiences of others makes students more empathetic and less likely to do or say things that are harmful to others,” Rea said. “You will be able to see where other people are coming from.”
Rea also included in his examples the McMinn County school board in Tennessee, which voted in January to drop from its eighth-grade curriculum “Maus,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel for Art Spiegelman about the Holocaust. . The removal was due to “inappropriate language” and an illustration of a naked woman drawn as a mouse.
“People like this school board are perfectly comfortable teaching about the Holocaust as long as it’s not too violent or too sad,” Rea said. “Spiegelman’s answer to the whole question was that it’s a disturbing story. Teachers and librarians are trained to teach children difficult subjects in an age-appropriate way, and to remove books from school libraries or curricula. school only deprives children of the possibility of understanding history, even when that history is overwhelming.
Censorship has taken place throughout human history.
Rea provided examples of censorship from as far back as ancient Greece and ancient China.
The term “censorship” comes from the Latin word “censor”, which was an official responsible for conducting the Roman census, the official tally of people and property.
The position also included responsibilities such as awarding contracts for the construction of roads and public buildings, collecting taxes, and monitoring public morals.
“They had enormous power and could remove any member of the senate for violating Roman laws or for showing questionable moral conduct,” she said.
Most libraries have a request for consideration form and a procedure for reviewing a request for removal of materials. Often a committee is called to review the book and make a recommendation to the governing body.
Hastings Public Library had several objections to the books during Rea’s tenure there. She said the challenged books were often children’s books.
The library manager or children’s librarian visits the person who filed the complaint.
If the person filing the complaint wanted to pursue the matter, they were offered the request for consideration form. Usually the case was dropped at that time.
Rea told of a case where a consideration form was filled out at the Hastings Public Library, but she couldn’t remember the book.
A committee reviewed the book and reported to the library board, which voted to retain the book.
The committee was made up of a member of the library board, a representative of Hastings Public Schools, Hastings College, the media, a member of the community at large as well as a member ex-officio library staff.
Banning books tends to have the opposite effect of what was intended by removing them from libraries or curricula.
“Often when a book is banned, it instantly becomes a bestseller and goes out of print in many bookstores,” Rea said. “Reading a forbidden book can be an opportunity for parent and child to discuss the book.”