‘Book bans’: Rhetoric v. reality

Claims of widespread “book banning” in school libraries continue to work their way into comments and articles, despite the fact such rhetoric is not reality. Most notably, Gov. Tim Walz continues to make such assertions, even staging a Little Free Library inside the State Capitol to stand against book “bans,” filling it with books reportedly “banned” in other states that Minnesota schools will continue to make available to students.

But not every Minnesota school library makes them available, either.

Let’s use the Mankato school district where Gov. Walz used to teach as an example. Included in the pile of books Gov. Walz claimed are banned in other states is Thank you, Jackie Robinson by Barbara Cohen. But this book is not available in any of the Mankato district school libraries, according to the district’s library catalogs. I am Perfectly Designed, also included in Gov. Walz’s Little Free Library list, is only in one Mankato elementary school library. Indian No More is available in one middle school library but not the other. The Handmaid’s Tale is in one high school library but not the other.

Given this, would Gov. Walz consider these books to be “banned” in these school libraries or just chalk it up to the fact that there is limited shelf space?

If the definition of a book ban is that a book is not included in a school library’s catalog, “then 99.9% of all books would effectively be banned,” writes Ingrid Jacques in USA Today.

This isn’t about books being “banned” — the books up for debate are “all very much available to anyone who wants them. No one is saying stop publishing them altogether,” Jacques continues. In fact, the vast majority of books allegedly banned from school libraries actually haven’t been banned at all.

Instead, the school library debate is largely centered around what is considered appropriate for children to access in school libraries and whether such material should be included in the limited school library shelf space. (If it’s not appropriate to read from a disputed book at a school board meeting or show the book’s content on television, is it appropriate for students to have access to that same book in a school library?)

“Determining what books are age-appropriate and educationally valuable enough to be purchased and kept in school libraries is inherently contentious even among well-intentioned people,” write Jay Greene and Madison Marino with The Heritage Foundation.

Unfortunately, false and hysterical claims that there is “widespread censorship” in America are preventing us from establishing a productive process for adjudicating these instances of disagreement over a limited number of graphic works, conclude Greene and Marino. “Manufacturing a book-banning crisis where none exists only serves to undermine public discourse and fails to protect democratic freedom.”