Weathering a Library Book Challenge

Feb 11, 2020

Book challenges occur across Wyoming, and the most recent one happened in Laramie County School District 1.

A parent filed a complaint against Drama by Raina Telgemeier, saying it was inappropriate for elementary students, after his eight-year-old daughter selected the book from her classroom library. The book is also available in school libraries in the district. Drama came in at number five on the American Library Association’s most recent top banned books list for its LGBTQIA+ characters and themes.

After a public hearing on January 30, the District Reconsideration Committee voted unanimously to keep the book on library shelves with no restrictions. The meeting drew 75 attendees, most of whom spoke in support of the book. A few days later, Superintendent of Schools Boyd Brown oficially accepted the committee’s recommendation. The story was picked up nationally by the Associated Press and appeared in U.S. News and World Report and other news outlets.

“I was impressed, happy, and humbled with just how supportive our community was,” said Sarah Horen, the Librarian at Triumph High School in LCSD1 and the support contact for the District’s elementary libraries. “So many different people came forward in support of the book — older students, younger students, parents, nurses, psychiatrists, and even a suicidologist. Everyone — regardless of their position on the book — was just so respectful and so warm. A lot of moving testimony was shared.”

Two major factors helped in this situation: The district had a good collection development policy in place, and the librarians knew they could reach out to others for advice and support.

The story began in October when the student picked the book from her classroom library as a free reading choice. She was uncomfortable with some of the themes and brought it to her parents, who spoke with the teacher. The district’s librarians became aware of the situation in early November, at which point the parents officially filed their complaint.

Sarah contacted the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom for assistance and ended up working with their Assistant Director Kristin Pekoll. She also reached out to the Wyoming Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Advisor, Janice Grover-Roosa and the Wyoming State Library’s School Library Consultant Paige Bredenkamp, as well as to colleagues in other libraries to see who had Drama on the shelves and who had encountered issues with it.

“Kristin was really helpful,” Sarah said. “We talked on the phone about 40 minutes one day, and she had great advice on different perspectives to bring to the table. She encouraged us to focus on the fact that we’re excited that parents were involved and that the child felt comfortable going to them — but every child should have that opportunity. When we take away the book, we take away that choice.” Parents who want to restrict reading choices for their own children are welcome to work with their school librarian to do so.

“There are kids out there that need this book in their lives. It’s important for all kids to be able to see themselves reflected in literature.”

Having policies in place in advance is critical, Sarah said. “What really helped us is that we have a very strong collection development policy in our district. It shows we don’t pick books randomly. There are specific criteria a book has to meet to be added to our collections. This book checked all the boxes. So the collection development policy is the first thing you should have, and then have a good policy and procedure in terms of what to do in a challenge.”

She added, “A challenge is kind of a scary thing and isn’t necessarily something you look forward to having happen, but it’s good to see librarians rally for the freedom to read what you want. The book was kept and it’s a great book.”

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