More book banning cases emerge in Oregon this year
Book bans are in Oregon, too. (Getty Images)
If you read about school or public library book banning in some places – Idaho or Texas, for example – it might come as a jolt but not a surprise. This kind of thing doesn’t happen in Oregon, right?
Except that it does, even in a state not usually identified as central to the conservative culture wars. But Oregon’s overall prevailing open attitudes toward books on shelves may be part of what is fueling the book-banning effort.
Last September, I happened to be in Bend when the Deschutes Public Library celebrated – if that’s the right word – Banned Book Week, which district officials saw as an attempt to raise awareness of censorship. One library official remarked, “It’s our ability to think what you want to think, learn what you want to learn, read what you want to read, and really develop your own thought processes.”
The tenor around the discussion seemed to be that the idea of open public access to widely read books in our libraries was a mostly settled issue in places like Oregon.
Except that it is not. A state library report on local library materials challenges from last summer shows the number of challenges around Oregon – more than 50 of them in the preceding year – had spiked well above the previous couple of years, and was running about twice as high as most earlier years. The largest share of those challenges relates to sexual or gender-related issues; a third of all the complaints were tagged as “sexually explicit.”
Lake Oswego school librarian Miranda Doyle commented that, “Right now, the books that are under attack tend to be by people of color. They tend to be about racism and LGBTQ people, and especially trans people are under attack right now, and this is happening all over the country and in Oregon.”
The 2,572 book titles – a record number – targeted for removal in libraries nationally are by or about people of color or LBGTQ issues, according to the American Library Association.
More book-banning cases emerged in Oregon this year. In March the West Linn-Wilsonville School District wrestled with a case from last fall, when the Oregon Moms Union called for removal from school library stacks of a collection of books typically described as by or about people of color or LGBTQ+ people. The question went to a book review committee, which mostly kept the books where they were but restricted a couple for high school use.
What happened in the Canby School District in April, however, was more extreme: That district decided to yank 36 books from school libraries. Another review of them is underway.
The Canby conflict came to a head at the district board’s meeting on April 11. High school senior Zachery Woodruff argued, “Two angry parents, 0.01% of the Canby population. That is all it took to remove over 30 books from our library. Without following any form of due process, the books were silently removed from the shelves. We have become ‘that school.’ The school in the media headlines.”
In the meeting, one parent commented, “Some of these books, as I got into them, have really explicit sex. A lot of it. It is not about anyone’s race, it is not about anyone’s gender. It is not about being transgender. It is not about LGBTQ+ . I didn’t look at any of those things. I literally looked at the content of the book and thought – not every 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 year old can handle this content.”
I’ll make no effort here to parse the motivations of individual book activists. Still, the connection to sexual, gender and race issues in those books clearly were central to the stated reasons for objections to them – arguments that also have become, in the last few years, highly visible in the nation’s political and culture wars.
Maybe one reason some of these complaints are as active in Oregon as they are is because of the political climate. In more culturally conservative states, legislatures and other governmental bodies have explored punishing libraries for placing controversial material on their shelves. One Idaho measure imposing fines and other penalties cleared the Legislature, but Gov. Brad Little vetoed it, he said, because “allowing any parent, regardless of intention, to collect $2,500 in automatic fines (on accusing a library of shelving inappropriate material) creates a library bounty system.”
It can get worse. In Montana, books shot through with bullets were found in one library’s book receipt box.
Oregon offers less outlets for such complaints in its state government. A national culture-war environment could put it at risk for as many local book-banning efforts as any state if only because that’s one of the relatively few ways culture warriors have for impacting their environment.
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