Bill would pay libraries to keep banned and censored books
Banned and censored books have become a major flash point – even in Connecticut. Now, some state lawmakers want to pay libraries to keep those books on the shelves.
“What we want to do is promote the concept of not banning books,” said state Sen. Ceci Maher (D-Westport).
A new children’s health bill would offer up to $3,000 in state grants to “sanctuary libraries” that carry "banned, censored or challenged” books.
Right now, Stamford's Ferguson Library is the state’s only official sanctuary library.
“We're the first,” said Alice Knapp, Ferguson Library’s CEO. “We are a book sanctuary library, and we are in a book sanctuary city.”
But critics worry about kids reading explicit content. At Staples High School in Westport, several parents recently challenged three books on gay and lesbian themes. A 10-member committee unanimously voted to keep them last week, but the final decision is up to Westport Superintendent Thomas Scarice.
“Is this how we protect our children here?” Westport parent Tara Tesoriero asked Board of Education members on Oct. 3. “Are these the type of books that inspire learning in our ‘top rated’ schools? I don't think so.”
Republican lawmakers raised similar concerns during a public hearing on the bill in February.
“Any child under 18 is not allowed to buy a pornographic book in a store – be it Playboy or any of the others – but in the library, they would have carte blanche to any book,” said state Rep. Anne Dauphinais (R-Killingly).
But libraries insist they don’t stock pornographic materials.
“The concerns are real, but they're overblown,” said Connecticut Library Association director Douglas Lord. “The book that is most frequently challenged in the United States of America is the Harry Potter series.”
Knapp said that parents have control of their kids' access. Under state law, children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult in public libraries. Ferguson includes a children’s section with age-appropriate materials, but also a teen section that includes more mature subject matter.
“Parents absolutely have that say,” she said. “I mean, this is a public library. So, what I would say is, you know, read with your child.”
One of the library’s “sanctuary” books is “New Kid,” a graphic novel about bullying from best-selling author Jerry Craft, a Norwalk native. The book was banned in parts of Texas.
“People use terms like ‘critical race theory’ and Marxism and things that I don't even think that they understand what they're accusing me of,” Craft said.
Librarians like Knapp are concerned about what's lost if libraries are no longer a “sanctuary.”
“In doing that, we're protecting their right to have access to books that somebody else might find offensive,” she said.
The legislation recently cleared the General Assembly’s Children’s Committee. It now awaits action in the state Senate.