Efforts are underway in Massachusetts to make the banning of books in public libraries and schools more difficult, particularly for organized groups seeking to challenge dozens of books at a time for questionable reasons. A recent Wellesley League of Women Voters program called “Who is protecting your right to read?” was held at the Wellesley Free Library and updated attendees on the topic .
(We’ve embedded Wellesley Media’s recording of the event at the bottom of this post).
Wellesley’s Mary Ann Cluggish, a former longtime Wellesley Free Library Board of Trustees member and current member of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, was the featured speaker. The School Committee’s Linda Chow and Wellesley Free Library Director Jamie Jurgensen joined Cluggish answering audience questions.
Cluggish says she has dedicated more than 20 years of her life to volunteering for libraries because “I believe deeply in the importance of education and freedom of access to information.”
Cluggish said her heart breaks for librarians now under attack as front liners defending against “hate, prejudice, and racism in what has become the latest American culture war.” A disproportionate amount of book challenges, which have risen sharply over the past couple of years in the state and nationwide, involve materials featuring people of color as protagonists or focus on LGBTQ+ issues. Other books challenged include the likes of The Lorax by Dr. Seuss and the Harry Potter series.
A bill introduced in Massachusetts would make challenging books more…challenging. Those seeking to ban books would need to file forms for each book they sought to ban, and the forms would require actual knowledge of the books being targeted. Also, more stringent review processes would be put in place for such challenges, and in schools would involve superintendents and school committees.
If the bill is made into law it would require all libraries in the state to publish collection development policies (Wellesley has one) that make it clear how materials are selected, and adherence to the law would be tied to state aid, certification, and reciprocal borrowing (Wellesley got over $66K in aid last year, so it’s not nothing). This would all help libraries present a unified front against those who would try to manipulate the book challenge system, and protect librarians for retaliation based on the contents of libraries.
Less formal efforts are also underway to ensure freedom of access to information, Cluggish said. She pointed to the Peabody Institute Library, which last year started a banned book club for teens. “I cannot think of a better way to get teens reading, can you?” she asked.