The Arlington library warmed up for Banned Books Week, Oct. 1-7, by holding a public conversation with Art Spiegelman on Sept. 22. Spigelman is a well known cartoonist and author best known for his novel “Maus” which won the Pulitzer Prize for his graphic depiction of his conversations with his father who survived the Holocaust. Jews were depicted as mice and Nazis as rats. A Tennessee school board voted 10-1 in January 2022 to ban “Maus” from school libraries based on the use of eight curse words and the portrayal of a nude woman.
In Kansas a group of parents sought to ban “Charlotte’s Web,” a children’s story of friendship and devotion, on religious grounds because there were talking animals, and because they assert it has a theme of death.
Diane Kresh, Director of Libraries for Arlington County and moderator for the panel discussion pointed out that while Arlington is a pretty open minded community and there hasn’t been a move to ban books here yet doesn’t mean it won’t happen. She says there is occasional pushback and there was something on Next Door a week ago about what books shouldn’t be on the shelves in Arlington.
“We read about it happening in different places in the paper every day. Closer to home two members of the Spotsylvania County School Board in Virginia advocated for burning certain books. And in Front Royal the Samuels Public Library has had its funding threatened due to its policies on LGBTQ books for young readers. There is a real threat to defund libraries in Virginia.”
Kresh says for the first time in years of keeping data the American Library Association has indicated the book challenges to books by authors of color and LBGTQ are off the charts and on a path to bust last year’s statistics at mid-year. Librarians are fired, directors sued.
She says we need to stand up for books and talk about it. “We need to make sure we have a multiplicity of books in our collection. Books are transformational. They challenge our beliefs and biases, expose us to different experiences and cultures.” She says it is a fundamental right to read and, “We need to stand up and say it, not from a position of fear but strength. This is what we stand for.”
She says she and the staff believe people have the right to read what they want, when they want and however they want.
Kresh says there is a misconception that libraries are only for people who are educated. “We try to blow up these perceptions. We try to make the libraries open and light and the staff look like those who are coming to America. We continue to encourage conversations. What does a library mean?”
Kresh says that immigrants who come to America don’t even have the concept of a public library as a part of the government and a place that is welcoming. In her remarks at a recent immigration ceremony held at the Central Library, Kresh told the group from 39 countries that “You left behind families and friends, cities, farms and villages. It has taken you patience and diligence to get here today.” She says the new citizens have been granted rights but with that comes responsibilities. “A representative government depends on the active engagement of all citizens.” She explains that’s where libraries come in — everyone has a right to know, to have access to information. That’s what makes a democracy work.”
Kresh will be focusing on Banned Books Week in Arlington Oct. 1-7. She plans to have events in all eight of the Arlington locations. Last year she recalls they had a table of banned books on display in the Central Library and invited readers to help themselves to a copy. The authors that were featured were all different. They had coffee and conversation around the books. She says there will probably be more of the same this year.
Her advice to others is to stand up for books and talk about it and to make sure you have banned books in your collection. Focus on an awareness campaign:
Always for everyone.
Let the ruckus begin.