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Beauty in Belmont by, Delleny Molisani

Local libraries face “book banning” efforts with a dedication to free speech and equal access

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Alfred-Almond School District makes statement after recent “challenge”

The Cuba Circulating Library make statement on upcoming attempt to remove library books

By Andrew Harris, image of commonly censored books from governing.com

Growing up in the eighties and nineties, the folklore about book burning was just that, history. Ghastly tales of angry religious or political zealots attempting to remove books from public circulation for over paranoid extremism. In reality, the effort to censor the written word has never really stopped.

The Bible has been banned, the Quran, William Shakespeare, and even Homer’s “The Iliad,” over the last few hundred years.

As they say, history repeats itself and throughout the country, including Allegany County, attempts to remove certain books from libraries and schools are more popular than ever. In 2023, the target is often the LGTBQ community, typically deemed offensive on moral and religious grounds. The same reasons the Bible, the Quran, Romeo and Juliet, and Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species.”

Last week, the Almond Public Library held a public meeting in response to a “book challenge.” The book “Grandpa’s Pride,” was challenged as morally offensive and requested that the book be removed. A public meeting was held and the public showed up. According to all accounts, several great speeches were made in favor of keeping the book on the shelf. The out-of-state residents who lodged the complaint and wanted the book removed left the meeting early, clearly upset after being overwhelmingly rebuked.

Almond Public Library issued this statement after the meeting:

“In September we received an official Request for Reconsideration of Library Materials. Per library policy we formed a committee. The committee met and ruled to keep Grandad’s Pride in the collection. After the complainant was notified of that decision they decided to pursue the next step which is a public hearing at a library board meeting. The public hearing was a chance for the board to hear from our community. About 20 people gave comment and the board listened for more than an hour. Only those who live in the Alfred-Almond school district were permitted to speak. We are very thankful that the school was willing to host us as we had too many folks in attendance to comfortably fit in our space. No decision was made at the public hearing and won’t be made until the board meets again at the end of December. The library board and staff are always open to hearing from the community and patrons. We were encouraged by the community’s participation and interest in the discussion. The library is for everyone!”

The Cuba NY Circulating Library will be the next public library to face a challenge over the book, “This Book is Gay,” and other books written for teens. The censorship effort has also included other literature in the library. Library director Tina Dalton released this statement on the effort to remove books from the shelves:

“On Nov. 18, a patron of the Cuba Circulating Library filed a Statement of Concern about Library Resources. This is the process which allows library patrons to share expressions of opinions concerning library materials selected or not selected for the library’s collection. After receiving the completed form, the Library Director and the Library Board, as needed, review the complaint to reach a conclusion about the suitability of the material for the Cuba Library’s collection. During this process, the item(s) in question stay in the library’s collection.

The specific items of concern listed are 1. “This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson; 2. “The LGBTQ section of Teen books (books for teens)”; and 3. “I would like to see the library review every one of their teen books for content [not suitable for teenage children] and remove them.” The patron has asked that these books be moved from the teen section to the adult section of the library.

“This Book is Gay” is a dating and sex education guide for LGBTQ+ teens. It is written specifically for ages 14-17. It has been in the library’s collection since 2015 and has been checked out 25 times. The Cuba Library does not have an “LGBTQ section of Teen Books.” We have books throughout our teen fiction and nonfiction section that feature LGBTQ characters and address issues that affect the lives of these teens.

The Cuba Circulating Library is committed to the principle that all people enjoy constitutionally protected freedoms of speech and press. To this end, the library strives to offer a collection that represents the needs of our diverse community. Inclusion of an item in the collection does not mean that the library endorses any theory or statement contained in those materials and resources. While not every patron may agree with the viewpoints offered in some library material, the library has a responsibility to provide a balanced collection with access to material reflecting diverse ideas through which any side of a question, cause, or movement may be explored, if the material meets the outlined selection criteria. The balanced nature of the collection is reflected in the diversity of materials, not in an equality of numbers. Patrons are free to choose what they like from the collection, to reject what they do not like, but not to restrict the freedom of others to choose.

Furthermore, the Cuba Circulating Library is dedicated to free and equal access to information, knowledge, and learning. We strive to nurture a lifelong love of reading, discovery, and engagement among our diverse community through our collections, programs, and physical and virtual spaces. The books in our collection are for all members of our community.

The Cuba Circulating Library Board of Trustees will hold their monthly board meeting on Monday, Dec. 11, at 6:00 p.m. at the Palmer Opera House. The doors will open at 5:30 p.m. The public is invited to come express their concerns on this issue. Each speaker will be given a maximum of three (3) minutes to address the board. Only those who reside within the Cuba Rushford School District will be permitted to speak at the board meeting.

We will report on how that meeting is conducted and the findings from the meeting next week.

Stay tuned for a powerful column by Southern Tier Library System Executive Director Brian Hildreth later today and enjoy this entertaining look into the history and current state of book baning in America from PBS:

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