A battle over book bans simmers in Arlington

When the Arlington Public Library recently decided to develop an internal policy for selecting seasonal book displays, director Norma Zuniga assumed it would be a simple task.

It was not.

First, a group of pastors requested a meeting, where they shared their concerns that posting books with LGBTQ content is harming teen mental health.

Then, at a usually sleepy library advisory board meeting this month, a few dozen community members called for postings related to LGBTQ issues and Pride Month to be removed from children’s and teen sections. libraries.

Many wanted the books removed altogether. A few residents have requested that an independent citizen review board review every book in the city’s seven public libraries.

“A public library should be a center for the expression and sharing of ideas, a place to promote critical thinking,” Zuniga later said. “Our mission is to open doors to a world of ideas, information and imagination.”

The debate has catapulted Arlington into the middle of a growing battle over books, and specifically which books are suitable for young readers. This battle, which has been brewing in schools for some years, is erupting in public libraries, where books about race and sexual orientation are frequent targets.

State Rep. Matt Krause helped spark book bans last year when he launched an investigation into school library reading materials. The Fort Worth representative demanded that schools in Texas report whether they had some 800 books on racism, gender and sexuality on their shelves.

Irving Public Libraries in Llano, northwest of Austin, has had book challenges over the past year.

Some of the LGBTQ-related children’s books are available for checkout at the George W. Hawkes Downtown Library in Arlington, Texas on October 18, 2022.(Tom Fox / personal photographer)

Fort Worth libraries closed last month after several branches received bomb threats. Similar threats in Denver, Nashville and Salt Lake City prompted the American Library Association to recently ask the FBI to investigate.

Meanwhile, attempts to ban books are expected to hit a record high this year, according to the association, which has tracked such challenges since 1990.

Previously, the association typically documented 300-350 challenges per year, with most challenges targeting a single title. In 2021, the partner registered 729 complaints against 1,597 pounds.

This year, from January to August, the association documented 681 attempts to ban or restrict books or library resources, targeting 1,651 titles.

“The unprecedented number of challenges we are already seeing this year reflect coordinated national efforts to silence marginalized or historically underrepresented voices and deprive all of us – young people, in particular – of the chance to explore a world beyond. beyond the limits of personal experience,” association president Lessa Kananiʻopua Pelayo-Lozada said in a statement.

Zuniga, who has worked in libraries for more than 30 years, said she has never seen this level of interest – or fury – in public library collections.

At the recent public meeting, several people accused the library of storing pornography and said that these books “cure” children. Grooming refers to a process in which offenders attempt to gain a child’s trust in an effort to develop a sexual relationship.

Arlington children’s section books include “Heather Has Two Mommies”, “My Two Dads and Me”, “Pride Puppy!” the story of a puppy who gets lost while his family attends a pride parade, “And Tango Makes Three”, about two penguins.

The book
The book “Introducing Teddy”, tells the story of Errol’s teddy bear, Thomas, who feels sad. Thomas finally reveals why: “In my heart, I’ve always known that I’m a stuffed girl, not a stuffed boy.” (Tom Fox / personal photographer)

One of the pastors who met Zuniga, Gary Hutchison of Grace Community Church in Arlington, said being gay puts children on a “path of pain.”

Others have said LGBTQ book displays violate their right not to see this material and force them to have conversations with their children that they would rather not have.

“We ask that you protect our children and not side with the drag queens and the group whose main objective is to expose our children to sexual content and a way of life that the majority of our population does not. not famous,” Gina Woodlee, of Arlington, said.

Fewer than 10 people spoke out in favor of keeping LGBTQ book displays in the children’s and teen sections.

“Those who believe that banning books will eliminate different sexual orientations are not facing reality,” said Yleen George, a retired educator and Arlington resident. “They didn’t choose their way of life. They didn’t get it by reading a book. They live as God created them.

Board chair Catherine Serna later said she thought the library could find a compromise in how it displayed books. But Serna, who is studying to become a librarian, added that she was troubled by what she called “silent censorship”. The library, she says, will not censor her collection.

“My concern is that it will be a slippery slope towards censorship,” Serna said. “We don’t want this to open the floodgates.”

The library board, after four hours of public comment and discussion, voted to table a vote on book displays to give library staff time to develop additional proposals.

The council plans to meet again on October 27.

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