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Celebrating libraries means ending book bans

Celebrating libraries means ending book bans

I’m no extremist. I like discourse with people who hold opposing viewpoints. You can sway me with sound arguments. I feel enlightened when coming away with a better understanding of why people think the way they do. 

But not on the issue of book banning, not on the right of free people to read freely, not on censorship and my opposition to efforts by politicians to punish school teachers and librarians when it comes to subject matter and books they want to “teach,” which really means “discuss.” On this issue I’ll argue every time for open access to books, to knowledge, to efforts to combat ignorance. No compromising on this issue, not ever.

As we mark a week dedicated to celebrating what libraries stand for (National Library Week is April 7-13), I couldn’t help but reflect on what’s been over the past couple of years regarding books, libraries and schools in Western North Carolina and beyond. Far from being celebrated, many people were casting these institutions as purveyors of pornography. Let’s just say it’s been a tough time to be a librarian. Who would have thought, right?

It really should come as no surprise that books, libraries and schools would get caught up in the broader culture wars that are dividing Americans. Most of us are familiar with the saying that “the pen is mightier than the sword,” and countless examples exist. It’s one thing to say something powerful or controversial during a speech or while conversing; it’s another matter altogether to put those words into print, whether on a website, in a newspaper or perhaps into a book. The effect and impact grow exponentially.

The first story we wrote about the issues of books in the Fontana Regional Library system upsetting some patrons was in July 2021 from Franklin. A display of book titles with themes on different types of sexuality other than traditional heterosexuality caught the attention of patrons, some of whom were upset.

I looked back at that story and was surprised at how reasonably both sides presented their arguments. Those opposed to the display said they loved libraries but that such reading materials could lead to awkward conversations between parents and their children. Another mom embraced the fact that such a display might lead to a conversation where she could explain things to her children and help them understand how people are different.

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That conversation about what schools — or libraries — should teach and what should be left to parents and what age certain topics should be broached is not new, and it won’t end anytime soon. And the fact is that just because a book with what one might consider radical beliefs is read in a class or available in a library, that’s not to say those teachers and librarians embrace that viewpoint. Let the reader decide.

In February 2022, Haywood County’s former superintendent of schools decided a 10th-grade English class could not study the book “Dear Martin” — which deals with racism, some sexuality, and other realities facing high-schoolers — after a parent lodged complaints. That led to the author Nic Stone making an appearance in Haywood County that drew hundreds of supporters to the auditorium at Haywood Community College.

Stone said she understands that parents are concerned about how their children are raised. But like the mom in Macon County, she believes one must teach their children to understand the world in which they live.

“I’m 37. I have kids of my own. I do understand the instinct to try and keep your children safe and to shield them from things in the world that you don’t feel like they’re ready for. But that can be detrimental. And I think it’s that gray space between recognizing that we are supposed to be preparing our children for a world that they’re going to enter and have to live in and have to work in, have to love in, and also trying to keep them as innocent and safe and sheltered as we possibly can,” Stone told The Smoky Mountain News.

 Here’s the truth: I would be surprised if there wasn’t something in every library in this nation that would offend someone. That’s often the point of books and essays and art, to make an opinion about our values. Libraries and schools that have books that deal with these subjects aren’t cramming those values down the throats of children. Instead, they are trying to educate them.

We exist in a culture of values, where we have certain beliefs about what is right and wrong. That is as it should be. In my view, education and exposure and discussion about what is going on in the world around us is paramount to a meaningful life. No blinders. With that in mind, I’ll celebrate what libraries stand for by advocating for no banned books, less ignorance and more understanding.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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