The Attack on Public Libraries and Democracy

In the face of widespread book banning, the degradation of librarians, and even attempts to shut down libraries entirely, it is vital that we fight for our rights.


Liza Greenberg

School libraries provide invaluable and free resources to students, such as access to books for academic or recreational reading.

There is a reason that books are always the first to go in times of political turmoil. Books are vessels of knowledge that allow you to see the world from another perspective. They can be powerful tools against bigotry. Reading teaches us how different people experience the world, and bigotry needs ignorance to flourish. 

We have seen books revoked to breed hatred. The most obvious example is the Holocaust, when Nazis would organize book burnings of literature written by Jewish authors or containing Jewish characters. A two-pronged approach of censorship and anti-Semitic propaganda was crucial to the Nazi Party’s strategy of maintaining control.  Propaganda showing Jewish people as having fangs or tails helped villainize them in the eyes of the German people. Many Nazi officials feared that if a German were to read a book written by a Jewish author, in which Jewish people are portrayed as normal human beings instead of monsters, the Nazi worldview could collapse. 

Any books that went against the idea of fascism were seen as dangerous, so many books written by communist, socialist, or pacifist authors were also burned. Dictatorships, such as the one in  Nazi Germany, are very fragile, so dictators take great care to maintain their fine balance of power. A key part of maintaining such power is controlling access to information.

Increasingly, we have seen the strategy of censorship spread among United States government leaders. 

Considering the history of books being censored or banned in order for those in power to remain powerful, it is concerning that we are seeing this phenomenon growing exponentially in America. We like to think that our society has come so far, but the American Library Association, or ALA, has reported that 2022 had the highest record for book banning attempts in the the 20 years that ALA had been collecting such data. 

One of the reasons for this increase in book banning is the political polarization that has been rampant in our country in the past few years. Radical right-wing politicians have attempted to pass legislation which would downplay America’s history of slavery, such as a bill in Texas which would limit discussion about the history of racism in America in social studies classes. Book banning is just another example of the far-right attempting to rewrite American history by limiting what voices children can and can’t be exposed to. 

This is apparent when looking at the types of books being banned. According to a study from Pen America, 41% of the books banned in the U.S. in 2022 contained protagonists or deuteragonists of color. 33% contain LGBTQ related themes or primary or secondary characters who belong to that community. These statistics show that the reasons that books are being banned are not because they include sexually explicit content, or that they will somehow harm the children reading these books. Those advocating for the removal of books that center characters of color simply want to erase any identities that are not identical to their own. These books can threaten white supremacy, which can incite a fear in Conservatives, conscious or unconscious. By removing stories that humanize people of color, spreading bigotry on said group will be far easier to do in the future and white conservatives will not be forced to confront any identities that make them uncomfortable. As a result, children of color, throughout the country will be stripped of books that have main characters who look like them, such as All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson.

Banning books can have a number of negative impacts on our country. As Siddharth Yadav ’24 said, “It is important to not ban books so as to foster public learning, and interpretation of radical ideas so that people have the means to explore the intricacies involved in ideas that go against the established norm, and understand why such ideas go against the established norm in the first place.” He feels that this will allow us to “either gain a better understanding of the circumstances that led to the development of what is considered socially acceptable, and in some cases lead to a realization of the flaws in modern society, and consequently foster a change for the better.”

Marissa Talushllari ’25 stated, “To ban books is to ban the spread of knowledge. Instead of wanting books to be banned in schools and libraries because they don’t want their kids reading them, parents should talk to kids about the topics in the books.”

Book banning and libraries themselves have become a way for Conservative politicians to rile people up and gain more followers. Heather Scott, a member of the Idaho House of Representatives held an event to discuss her concern surrounding the books in Idaho libraries. The Panhandle Patriots – a patriotic motorcycle club that claims to stand up for the Constitution and the community – attended, with one member openly saying that, “We actually intend to go head to head with these people. A line must be drawn in the sand.” The group he was referring to was people advocating for LGBTQ representation.  

Associating yourself with a group threatening violence against minority groups such as the LGBTQ community will appeal to the Radical Right. One way to gain a loyal following is to fearmonger on issues that many Conservatives are already paranoid about, a strategy that many politicians, including Scott, have taken advantage of. 

There are other motivations to support the banning of books. “People are trying to control what kids see and have access to. Apparently, people think that certain books, just by being in libraries and classrooms, are a form of indoctrination,” Talushllari said.

The current tirade against public libraries does not end with books being challenged or banned. Many librarians have quit after being accused of trying to groom children by promoting books with “inappropriate” relationships ranging from relationships between an adult and a minor or, what is more often the case, gay relationships. There has even been legislation passed in Missouri which makes it illegal to share “explicit material” with students, meaning librarians could be prosecuted for refusing to remove books deemed as explicit. The definition of explicit material remains vague, with Senator Rick Brattin of Missouri stating, “You know it when you see it.” This vagueness can be used to further censor queer stories, as the loose definition can apply to almost any story that deals with sexuality, even if it is not done in an explicit manner. 

A town in Western Michigan voted to reduce the budget of Patmos Library by 84%, leaving the library a budget of $23,000 per year. On this reduced budget, the library is unlikely to remain open for much longer, meaning this small-town will be stripped of all library resources. Attempts to defund libraries are often in response to librarians refusing to remove challenged or banned books, with the controversial book in Patmos Library being Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe. 

Missouri’s House voted to cut funding for libraries in that state entirely in response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union. That lawsuit was over a state law that banned any sexually explicit content in schools, leading to the removal of books like Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, an anti-war novel about World War Two or Maus by Art Spiegelman, a graphic novel about the Holocaust. By stripping public institutions of these books, people don’t have access to stories that are often written by minorities, or even stories about major and horrific events in our history that are essential learning. 

The goal of defunding public libraries is to limit their ability to offer access to stories deemed inappropriate. However, if Missouri was to successfully remove libraries entirely, it would remove crucial resources from its communities which is especially devastating because 20% of Missouri residents have no internet access. Without a local library, many people in Missouri would be deprived of the vital resources the library provides. 

Beyond unethical, removing libraries from Missouri entirely is also unconstitutional. The Missouri state constitution states in Article 9, Section 10, “It is hereby declared to be the policy of the state to promote the establishment and development of free public libraries and to accept the obligation of their support by the state and its subdivisions and municipalities in such manner as may be provided by law.” 

Nationally, it can also be argued that book banning in general is unconstitutional. In the Supreme Court case Board of Education v. Pico, in which a group of parents complained about nine of the books the students were reading, including Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and Langston Hughes’s Best Short Stories by [Black] Writers. The school board removed the books, but five students, including Steven Pico, challenged the school board’s decision. The case ended up going to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the students, stating that the First Amendment protects the right to read. Since public schools are an extension of the government, they are not permitted to restrict students’ right to read. 

Based on this precedent, the banning of books in public institutions, such as libraries and public schools, is unconstitutional. This means groups such as the Panhandle Patriots, which claim to be patriotic, are advocating for the violation of the Constitution. 

There has also been a wave of book banning in Florida, especially after Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill which “requires school districts to be transparent in the selection of instructional materials, including library and reading materials.” This means the books in libraries and schools need to be approved by a school district employee who possesses an “educational media specialist” certificate. This certificate can be obtained through a bachelors in educational media and by fulfilling the classes required. The certificate allows you to have control over what books should and should not be available to minors in a library. Many of the books being pulled by educational media specialists contain content about sexuality, race, and gender identity. Under this legislation, book banning throughout the state of Florida have surged, with 571 bans being recorded over the 2021-2022 school year. Even though Governor Ron DeSantis denies being a book banner, especially after Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem was banned in a grade school in Florida, the legislation he has helped pass only aid in book censorship efforts. 

With the sheer number of books being banned or challenged each year, combined with the amount of parents and politicians advocating for the removal of books that often center minority characters, it can feel like there is no end in sight. But there are ways for all of us to combat this issue. 

The most obvious is to vote (once you reach the age of eighteen), not just in presidential elections, but in local and state elections, where your vote matters more. According to Pew Research Center, the main voters have right-wing beliefs which can lead to local libraries being defunded, such as in Western Michigan, with a survey showing that 78% of consistently Conservative Americans always vote, as compared to 58% of consistently Liberal Americans. It is imperative that everyone shapes their community, not just the people who scream their opinion the loudest. 

You can also email local libraries or your city council in order to show support for public access to a diverse range of books. You may feel that one email will not accomplish much, but as we have seen in cases like the Board of Education v. Pico, a small group can make a major difference. 

Make sure to show support for banned or challenged books at your school or local library. Not just the books that have already received a lot of attention for the amount of controversy they have stirred up – although they are still important. But we also need to show support for books like Each of Us a Desert by Mark Oshiro or Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson, which, like most other banned books, have seen a decrease in sales after being forcibly removed from schools and libraries. It is important to support the books successfully hidden from our sight alongside the widely publicized banned books. 

Even though it can be hard to maintain hope in the face of this nationwide book banning, we cannot give up. Books are key in unlearning bigotry, understanding people who are different from you, or feeling like you are understood. Libraries provide invaluable resources to communities, including free access to the internet and books, or a quiet spot for you to study. Protecting our libraries as well as our books means protecting our communities and nation at large. 

Marissa Talushllari ’25 stated, “To ban books is to ban the spread of knowledge. Instead of wanting books to be banned in schools and libraries because they don’t want their kids reading them, parents should talk to kids about the topics in the books.”