Librarians across CT celebrate banned books: 'It's the freedom of choice,' one leader says
In the past year, Connecticut has had 14 attempts to restrict access to more than 100 books. That’s 14 more than last year.
This week, people across Connecticut and the country are observing Banned Books Week.
It highlights the value of open access to information and started in 1982 in response to a surge of challenges to books in libraries, schools, and bookstores across the country.
Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz met with librarians and members of the LGBTQ+ legislative caucus at the New Haven Free Public Library Tuesday to celebrate books that have been banned nationwide.
Bysiewicz said there hasn’t been a book ban in Connecticut in the past five years. She also thinks there may be more attempts that weren’t reported.
“We've seen this growing trend of challengers looking to limit our freedom to read,” Bysiewicz said. “In 2022, the American Library Association tracked the highest number of attempted book bans since they began compiling data more than 20 years ago.”
Bysiewicz said most of the bans are initiated by parents and groups with religious and political affiliations. Most of the challenged books, she says, include LGBTQ+ issues or have people of color as their main characters.
Maria Bernhey, director of the New Haven Free Public Library, says that books are meant to present all viewpoints. She said censorship and book bans should be perceived as a threat to democracy.
“When libraries are asked to censor books, the message we're sending is that your viewpoint doesn't matter, or that you should be ashamed. And that is entirely opposite of the goal of a public library,” Bernhey said.
Earlier this year, two Republican Newtown Board of Education members resigned a day before a vote on whether or not they should ban two books in the high school’s library.
The books in question – “Flamer” by Mike Curato and “Blankets” by Craig Thompson — both address issues of gender identity and sexuality; those who wanted the books removed said the novels were overly graphic.
However, some Board of Education members argued the books didn’t fit the legal criteria to be classified as obscene – they just openly spoke about LGBTQ+ issues. The book was not banned in the high school’s library.
Bysiewicz mentioned that after years of being in the school’s library, it had only been checked out once.
Dawn LaValle, the state library director for Connecticut, said that it was a book that opened her eyes to individual struggles people may be going through. She wants to make sure all future readers have that same access she did to grow their love of reading.
“Our goal as librarians is to open the doors to allow everyone and to give them the opportunity to make the decisions for themselves,” LaValle said. “It's about accessibility. It's about equity. And it is our role not to decide what you read. But to give you that choice. It's the freedom of choice.”
In an effort to encourage more patrons to read banned books, Bysiewicz checked out “Guru” by RuPaul, a children’s book about the drag queen that was put up for a proposed ban in Colchester, as well as “Flamer” by Curato – the book in Newton that was also under consideration for a ban.
“I want to see what all the ruckus is about,” she said.