Throughout the summer, these institutions have been hosting lectures and events in branch libraries, bookstores and even community parks. These events feature discussions with authors of banned and questioned books, conversations with experts in fields such as pediatric mental health, and even colorful, goofy Drag Queen story times.
It’s not uncommon for libraries to host events for banned or questioned books, especially during the American Library Association’s annual Banned Books Week in late September. However, Austin Public Library leaders believe their months-long initiative is a first.
Baylor Johnson of the library said, “We try to make programming that responds to what’s happening in our community, and we’re aware of the community’s response to banned books and library censorship happening across the country, especially in Texas. Concerns,” the communications manager told CNN.
Johnson said many of the camps have specifically highlighted LGBTQ writers and writers of color, whose work is often the target of these challenges. The program kicks off with a conversation with author and LGBTQ activist George M. Johnson, who has collected a collection of coming-of-age essays titled “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” named ALA’s 10 Most Challenging Books of 2021 one of the books. Often-challenged classics, such as 1984 and The Purple, also became the focus of the ban.
In an April analysis by PEN America, it found that Texas had imposed 713 book bans in 16 school districts — the most of any state. The American Library Association published similar findings, noting that books about LGBTQ and black people are one of the biggest challenges in 2021.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott led the effort The removal of some LGBTQ-themed books from school libraries, a statewide measure to restrict content has grown in popularity in places like Florida, where complaints of critical race theory and so-called “don’t say gay” laws have left schools and Public agencies are stuck unsure of exactly what they can and can’t teach. Continued Republican anger over critical race theory has led to more hits on the curriculum and fewer opportunities to interact with books by black authors.
While many initiatives to ban or challenge content have focused on schools, library professionals are increasingly concerned that such initiatives will expand from municipal to state levels, from classrooms to public libraries and more.
This has already happened in Virginia, where two state leaders sought a restraining order against Barnes & Noble in May. State Representative Tim Anderson and former congressional candidate Tommy Altman called the book “Gender Queer,” Maia Kobabe’s graphic novel rated ALA for 2021 Most Challenging Book of the Year; Sarah J. Maas’ bestselling fantasy novel “The Court of Mist and Fury” is “obscene to minors for unrestricted viewing.”
The people behind the Austin camp saw these ominous developments as an opportunity to remind readers, young and old, that books are an enduring symbol of free speech.
“Books take us on adventures, provide us with new perspectives and ideas, and sometimes take us out of our comfort zone,” BookPeople’s children’s book buyer and programming director Megan Gore said in a statement. “They’re multifaceted and don’t easily degrade into snippets or headlines. That’s what makes being a reader so exciting and rewarding!”
APL’s communications manager, Johnson, said the community’s response to Banner Camp has been very positive.
“We are delighted that the community understands that libraries are places where intellectual freedom and the right to find stories and information must be protected,” he said.