91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.3 Port Huron 89.7 Lansing 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

MI Library Association launches campaign to counter book bans

A photo inside a library
Stephen Coburn/Stephen Coburn - stock.adobe.com
A photo inside a library

The Michigan Library Association says libraries are under “unprecedented” attack, and there needs to be organized pushback. That’s why the group is launching the Michigan Right to Read campaign.

The campaign encourages people to get involved in efforts to protect libraries from book bans, and provides tools to help them do that. It comes as public libraries in Michigan and across the country are facing an explosion of organized efforts to ban books some people object to, especially ones that deal with themes like racism, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

MLA Executive Director Deborah Mikula said the campaign doesn’t focus on specific controversial books or themes. Instead, she said their big message is that the First Amendment protects what individuals choose to read—and a public library’s right to provide that.

“Every single citizen, every patron that walks through the door of a library has the right to choose the book that matters to them,” Mikula said.

Mikula added that no person or group should get to make “sweeping decisions” on how librarians do their jobs. “It’s really important that we recognize that [librarians] have significant education and training to do this work, and it qualifies them to be able to develop these collections that meet the broad and varied interests around them,” she said.

The MLA also released a poll that Mikula said shows how much the groups behind censorship efforts are a “vocal minority.” The group commissioned the polling firm EPIC-MRA to survey more than 800 Michigan residents across the state about book bans and other issues related to libraries. Among other things, it found that 83% would support legislation that protects an individual's “right to read,” and 75% believe there’s a need to protect access to books, especially for “young people learning about different perspectives.”

Mikula said Michigan has so far been spared state-level legislation targeting library content, but there have been scattered localized campaigns to censor library materials. The Ferndale Public Library was recently targeted by members of the “Hide the Pride” campaign, a right-wing Catholic effort to remove LGBTQ-themed books from libraries. And the public library in West Michigan’s Jamestown Township faced the prospect of shutting down after voters shot down two attempts to renew its millage, as librarians there refused to pull LGBTQ-themed content from the shelves.

“Censorship is nothing new. However, the volume of attempted censorship efforts and extremist rhetoric we are witnessing across our nation, and here in Michigan, is unprecedented,” the MLA says in commentary on the Right to Read website. “We are living in a tumultuous time and we believe the proponents of removing books from library shelves are trying to further divide our country by turning our political disagreements into a culture war.

“While every individual has a right to challenge a book, we are seeing a coordinated and orchestrated attempt by conservative organizations and well-funded groups to remove books about racism, sexuality, gender, and history. Even the threat of censorship creates an environment of fear that leads to restrictions on access to information.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
Related Content