Royal Oak Public Library staff are doing their bit against censorship by frequently displaying banned books and selling special t-shirts during Banned Book Week.
For the Library of Royal Oak and others across the state and nation, Banned Book Week officially began Sunday.
Library director Sandy Irwin said staff had designed a T-shirt that sells for $15 that reads, “I’m with the forbidden.”
“Staff designed it to look like a concert t-shirt,” Irwin said. “On the back cover is a list of the 100 most challenged books from 2010 to 2019.”
Displays feature current and classic books targeted for ban – from Anne Frank’s ‘Huckleberry Finn’ and ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ to Sarah Prager’s ‘Queer, There, and Everywhere’.
Attempts to ban or restrict books are increasing, according to the American Library Association.
According to the Associated Press, the ALA documented 681 book challenges in the first eight months of this year.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Deborah Caldwell, director of the ALA’s Office of Freedom of Thought, told the AP. “It’s both about the number of challenges and the type of challenges. In the past, a parent found out about a particular book and had a problem with it. Now we see campaigns where organizations compile lists of books without necessarily reading or even looking at them.”
The number of challenges for books this year is approaching last year’s total of 729, which was reportedly the highest in decades.
One of the most popular books for aspiring censors is Gender Queer, a graphic memoir with illustrated cartoon panels depicting characters and scenes from author Maia Kobabe’s autobiographically informed work, published in 2019
“If you look at the top 10 most challenged books of the last year,” Irwin said, “they’re all challenged for LGBTQ+ content or they contain people of color.”
As far as Irwin is aware, no books have been officially banned from the Royal Oak Library.
However, two complaints were filed.
First, one user was concerned about the book Gender Queer in the adult section of the library.
The patron “worried it was a graphic novel and felt it was inappropriate content,” Irwin said. “They hadn’t seen or read the book, but saw an article about it in an Iowa newspaper.”
She added that the patron made no official challenge.
“The First Amendment protects your freedom to read what you want,” Irwin said. “Just because we have a book on the shelf, we don’t force anyone to read it.”
Another complaint was filed about And Tango Makes Three. an illustrated children’s book by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson about two male penguins who start a family together.
Illustrated by Henry Cole, the work is in the children’s section of the library.
“People have gay parents and there are young people who are discovering that they may also be LGBTQ,” Irwin said. “We deliver stories. The important thing is that people want to be included.”
Banned Books Week highlights the challenges libraries and schools face when it comes to making materials available.
Conservative attacks on books and staff at these institutions have increased across the country over the past two years, the Associated Press reported last week.
“When we collect material for the library, we read professional reviews and want to have a balanced collection,” Irwin said, adding an example. “We have many books that are pro-Biden and many that are pro-Trump. We want to have something that people can find what they want to read.”
The money from the I’m With the Banned t-shirts goes to Friends of the Royal Oak Public Library, who support programs and unexpected needs that the library addresses.
“We released the shirts on Tuesday and people are buying them,” Irwin said.