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A librarian recommends talking about books, not banning them

Books sit on shelves in the Duke Humphrey’s Library at the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford, England.
Librarian Holly Eberle says books have a lot of power.

To read or not to read? At school board meetings across the country, that’s been the question.

According to the American Library Association's (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom, book challenges are happening nationwide in a loosely coordinated effort. The ALA calls the challenges a "dangerous fad."

The effort was on display at a recent Unit 5 school board meeting where a number of people showed up to protest the book “Gender Queer.” Maia Kobabe's award-winning graphic-novel style memoir is among the Normal Community West High School library’s collection.

Holly Eberle is a teen librarian who's served on the ALA's Intellectual Freedom Committee. Eberle said when it comes to kids, some parents would rather avoid exposure to certain subjects altogether.

“It seems like a lot of parents are concerned their child might stumble upon a book in a library at school,” she said.

Parents do have a right to be involved in their kids’ choice of library books, according to Eberle, who said that librarians are trained not to act “in loco parentis.” But while it’s ultimately the parents’ responsibility to approve what books their children read, Eberle said many of the objections tend to stem from a desire to avoid uncomfortable topics.

“I think a lot of people just don’t want to have those discussions,” she said.

Kids tend to be much more open to learning about a wide range of perspectives, including stories that explore race and sexuality, according to Eberle.

“They’re pretty open to reading about diverse stuff. People who don’t look like them or think like them,” she said. And they want more from their libraries than standard classics like, "To Kill a Mockingbird" or "Catcher in the Rye."

Eberle said she’s aware of the power of books and that’s precisely why we need books that challenge us.

“All these stories are really important and if we don’t learn from history — like, from Anne Frank’s diary — we might repeat it again," she said. "The Diary of Anne Frank" has been a frequent target of censors, Eberle said, due to its “depressing” subject matter and Frank’s descriptions of puberty.

Eberle said there should be a book in every library that offends someone — even the librarian.

“And I do know of at least one book I am offended by in my own library,” she said.

“I think people that want to challenge books and people like me that want to defend books, we have the(same) thing in common that we all recognize books have a lot of power,” Eberle said. “I think maybe people should just talk with their teens more.”

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Sarah Nardi is a WGLT reporter. She previously worked for the Chicago Reader covering Arts & Culture.
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