Natrona County Public Library Showcasing ‘Banned Books’ This Month With Feature Display
Did you know that this week is 'Banned Books Week?'
Yes, that's a thing; a pretty important thing, actually, and Natrona County's very own library is 'celebrating' the event by showcasing a display of banned books right in the center of their library.
Now, this may seem like a fairly innocuous decision. "This is 2022!" you might yell. "We don't ban books anymore. What is this, 1960's Memphis?"
Well, no. It's not. It is 2022. And Wyoming. And according to a report from PEN America, there has been a surge in book bans; the "result of a network of local political and advocacy groups targeting books with LGBTQ+ characters and storylines, and books involving characters of color."
A report from NPR stated that in April of this year, officials in Madison County, Mississippi placed 20+ books under 'restricted circulation.'
And though it hasn't actually gotten to that point yet in Wyoming, it's not for lack of trying.
Back in December of last year, nine people spoke out at a Natrona County School Board meeting, condemning the inclusion of various books that they claimed were available in elementary, middle school, and high school libraries.
"Among the books brought up, there are: Mondays Not Coming, Crank, Traffick, Glass, Burned, Exquisite Captive, You Me and Him, and Gender Queer," K2 Radio News reported. "Many of the books cover difficult subject matters such as gender, sexuality, poverty, bullying, addiction, sex trafficking, and slavery."
Given the subject matter, a number of parents spoke up about the inclusion of these books in school libraries, and they condemned the school board for allowing it to happen.
"We no longer trust you, we no longer have faith that you will work with us in educating our children," one speaker, Sarah Bieber, said. "We no longer trust that you keep the gates and help protect our kids. Ethical frailty and moral corruption is responsible for these atrocities against our children. This is not education, this is simply disgusting sickness. We're not your enemies, we're the parents and the families that would fight for you. We're the parents and families that fight for our children."
Just last week, the Natrona County School District 'Book Review' Committee chose to keep two books, one of which was called 'Gender Queer,' in a Natrona County school library.
The committee gave their oral presentation to the School District Board and will have 30 days to release their written opinion. Following that, the school board will decide what, if any, action to take regarding the book.
At that meeting, representatives from the group 'Moms for Liberty,' chose to express their opinions to the board.
"A few months ago, mothers brought these books to you, and they were trying to educate you on what these books contained, and you shut them down, saying the content was too inappropriate for this meeting," a woman named Rene Reading stated. "One trustee even had the audacity to say that they weren't acting Christian-like. Well, I'm letting you know, over the coming months, we'll see who is going to be Christian. These books are too inappropriate for adults, what makes you think they aren't for our children? If you aren't concerned about what these children are seeing, then we as parents must ask the question, should we worry about this school board?"
As of right now, according to PEN America, Wyoming currently does not have any books that are banned.
However, "Bans occurred in 138 school districts in 32 states. These districts represent 5,049 schools with a combined enrollment of nearly 4 million students."
Because of statistics like these, libraries all over the country proudly display 'banned books' during one specific week in September.
"Actually, doing a banned books display is something that libraries just kind of do," said Lisa Scroggins, the Executive Director of the Natrona County Public Library. "We do that in recognition of 'Banned Books Week,' and 'Banned Books Month.' And the reason that libraries display banned books is because we just really want to encourage community members to have conversations about censorship and why/why not different materials are challenged or banned."
Scroggins said a 'Banned Books' display may be a misnomer, as there aren't actually any banned books currently in Wyoming. But, she said, the books on display were banned at some point in history.
"It could be current, or it could be a while ago," she said. "As a former English Language Arts teacher, it always amazed me that 'To Kill a Mockingbird' was banned and challenged. It was actually banned in several places because of the use of inflammatory words for people of color."
'To Kill a Mockingbird' is just one of the many books that have been banned for one reason or another.
Other banned books include 'The Color Purple,' 'Catcher in the Rye,' 'A Farewell to Arms,' "Fifty Shades of Grey,' 'Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You,' 'Sophie's Choice,' and more.
All of these books are currently on display and available to be checked out at the NCPL.
Scroggins referenced the current situation in the Natrona County School District and stated that she's glad the school board welcomes community input. She said the library does that as well.
"To me, 'Challenge' is a very negatively-charged word," she said. "I don't see it as a negative process. I see it as, we are all one community, so let's figure out how we can serve everybody in the community. A lot of times, here at the public library, if a person questions why we have a book in our collection, sometimes it's just a matter of having a conversation with the librarian. We say, 'Hey, I get that you don't like that book and you don't want to read it or you don't want your kids to read it, or your neighbors, but maybe there's somebody else who does want to read it. And maybe this other book that you love, maybe they don't love it. A lot of times, it's just a conversation. But we want to provide materials for everybody."
Those materials are currently being provided, along with countless other novels, movies, video games, graphic novels, audiobooks, and more at the Natrona County Public Library.