Book banning is on the rise in the United States. The total number of books banned/challenged in 2022 is not yet published, but the American Library Association predicts that it will far out measure those banned in 2021.
Between January 1st and August 31st the ALA recorded 681 attempts to ban or restrict library resources, and 1,651 different titles were targeted. Additionally, 70% of the attempts were aimed at multiple titles, while in the past challenges only targeted one book or resource.
There are many bills that the North Dakota legislature is currently considering, but two are gathering a lot of attention: Senate Bill 2123 and House Bill 1205. Each of these bills are aimed at removing “sexually explicit” media from places where minors frequent. This includes “any public roadway or public walkway,” according to both bills.
Senate Bill 2123 was introduced by Senator Todd Beard, and House Bill 1205 was introduced by Representatives Mike Lefor and Vicky Steiner. Both pieces of proposed legislation are a part of the 68th legislative assembly of North Dakota.
This proposed legislation will make it a class B misdemeanor if libraries choose to display books of this nature, regardless of whether the books are aimed at children or not. This doesn’t just mean that the libraries can’t display the books on top of the shelves, even having the books in the library would make them criminally liable.
Timothy Dirks, the director of the Fargo Public Libraries said that this legislation will “essentially make our job impossible.” Energy that used to be spent performing everyday tasks will be shifted towards dealing with complaints and checking books for content issues.
“We already have policies and procedures in place,” said Dirks.
He said that they have had to review books before, and that this involves researching the book and looking at what others have said about it. But no books have been taken off their shelves in the 15 years that he has been the library director.
According to a survey that was performed that included 50 out of the 83 public libraries in North Dakota, a majority of libraries had no requests for books to be removed, said Kerrianne Boetcher, the president of the North Dakota Library Association and Library Administrator at the Ward County Public Library.
“There have been a total of 48 total requests at 8 libraries for 24 individual titles,” Boetcher said. She added that one library had 14 requests for the same book and that another library had 18 requests for 8 different books. Just two libraries accounted for two-thirds of all the requests for book removals throughout the state.
This legislation will “affect students of all reading levels,” Boetcher said. Senate Bill 2123 will also apply to college libraries. Because some college freshmen are still 17, and some high school students take college classes, this bill could limit the selection that college libraries may have.
Public libraries are not solely aimed at children. While many have dedicated children’s sections, they see people of all ages. This is true of the Fargo Public Libraries as well. Dirks said they see a mix of folks who all come for different reasons.
The Fargo Public Library has a service policy in regards to accessing materials, it reads as follows: “the library does not act in loco parentis. Parents/Guardians are responsible for children’s and young people’s reading, viewing, and listening.”
Dirks echoes this statement saying, “They want us to be parents. Parents need to be parents,” in regards to the language of the legislation. The purpose of the library is to provide access to the materials, not pick and choose what individuals can access them.
Faye Seidler is a local suicide prevention advocate specializing in protecting the LGBTQ+ population. This sudden panic over library books stems from what Seidler describes as a moral panic. Moral panics are fear-based solutions that normally exceed the proposed threat they are trying to combat, in this case “sexually explicit” media in places where minors frequent.
When it comes to moral panics, some people have genuine fears, while others have a political agenda, Seidler said. She followed up by saying that advocacy comes in response to moral panic. Those opposed to outlandish solutions, or appalled by them, then advocate against them.
That is what Dirks, Boetcher, and many others are doing across the state of North Dakota, and even across the country as libraries began to face more and more book banning threats.