Friends of the Library Discuss Upcoming Plans - and a Rise in Censorship
Andrea Fiorillo, co-chair of the MLA Intellectual Freedom and Social Responsibility Committee, speaks at the annual Friends of the Library meeting.
By Jennifer Russo
Last month, the Bellingham Friends of the Library held their annual meeting to discuss planned events and strategy for the new year. Founded in 1987, the Friends of the Library group’s mission is to support the public library and trustees in bridging the gap between in-house services and community outreach, providing education and programs to residents of the town and those around it.
While the pandemic impacted library operations, there has been a resurgence in visitors – up 30% since last year alone, as well as an increase in checked out items. This is thanks to the diligence of library staff, trustees, and the Friends group – who together provide a consistent offering of interesting programs and current materials for all to enjoy.
These include children’s and adult programs, as well as specialty programs, such as the upcoming photography and art competition on February 17th and the recent launch of LSC Author Talks, a series of virtual events where best-selling authors discuss topics and themes behind their works.
While all of this programming is excellent, the group also welcomed Andrea Fiorillo, co-chair of the MLA Intellectual Freedom and Social Responsibility Committee, to discuss a more unfortunate and detrimental trend unfolding – Censorship.
With a rising wave of censorship in the United States, which stems from organized groups bent on challenging our intellectual freedom to freely access and discuss certain books, periodicals and other educational materials based on what they deem inappropriate content, libraries across the US are finding themselves in the epicenter of the storm.
“As library staff, we know that protecting our intellectual freedom is a fundamental part of our professional ethics and role. It is what we do. We don’t determine these limitations; we stand for patrons determining their own values and what is okay for them and their families,” shares Andrea.
These challenges on book and media titles are at a record high in Massachusetts, with 2,500 of them last year alone (an over 1000% increase since 2020). Why is that?
During the pandemic, well-organized and extremist populations came together into several groups, and though the groups sound like solid and well-meaning ones, they are rooted in white-supremist and staunchly religious philosophies. A look at the majority of titles being challenged and censored in the last couple of years reveals very specific themes.
Books like The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (a Nobel Prize winner), Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez, and Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison, all of which deal with racism themes, are at the top of this list. Any book for young adults that has topics centered around LGBTQ+, such as Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe and All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson, have been met with backlash and even fines for distribution in some states. In fact, according to several sources, more than 40% of all books censored are written by or center around people of color, over 30% have LGBTQ+ themes, and over 20% address racism issues directly.
So, who are these extremist groups in Massachusetts looking to ban these titles? The National Socialist Club, CORR, Moms for Liberty, Super Happy Fun America, and the MA Informed Parents group on Facebook have all been responsible for the majority of title challenges in our state, often encouraging members to join school and library boards to push their agendas. In some cases, they have shown up to family programs at libraries to protest or have harassed library staff and program speakers.
“These groups resort to dirty tactics, because they can’t win on the merits of their argument. The fact is the vast majority of people do not think censoring and banning books is a good idea at all,” Andrea says.
This being the case, for the majority who do believe that it is their right as individuals to determine what is appropriate for themselves and their children and don’t think it should be decided for them – it’s time to get louder and take a stand, says Andrea. Voting in local elections, writing to political leaders, attending library trustee meetings, and supporting anti-book banning bills currently up for consideration are all ways that patrons can have their voices heard. The MA State Legislature seems to be on the side of intellectual freedom as well, she says, but it is still best not to be passive as this is a growing problem everywhere.
According to Bellingham Library Director Bernadette Rivard, there have been no challenges brought forth in our town to date on any of the materials held in our library, but there is a procedure in place if there are any concerns.
New members are always welcome to join the Bellingham Friends of the Library, which meets once a month, for a nominal fee of $10 that goes toward library programming. For more information or to join, visit https://friendsofthebellinghampubliclibrary.wildapricot.org/