Utah Libraries Advocates Offer eBook, Ideas To Help Parents Navigate The Book Ban Controversy

Utah Education Association President Heidi Matthews speaks at a press conference on the recent increase in censorship at Utah school libraries and to announce an e-book designed to help parents solve the issue at the Salt Lake City Public Library in Salt Lake City on Tuesday. (Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News)

Estimated reading time: 5-6 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY – It’s the kind of experience that gives a young teacher nightmares.

Heidi Matthews was a 30-year-old teacher when a book she handed over to her second-grade Honors English class was challenged by the parent of two of her students. The parent felt that the book “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou was reprehensible because in her memories Angelou describes the rape by her stepfather and how she stopped talking after the assault.

“The challenge followed our district policy for reconsidering library materials to a T,” Matthews said, noting that she had the support of her teachers’ union, which helped her “justify my choices. , my program and just to support me in this process which seemed very scary to me as a young professional. “

In seeking to give her students exposure to literature that they might not otherwise have chosen, she felt like she had “done something wrong”. But the process has actually turned into a wonderful discussion of why various literary choices are important and how minds are expanded with exposure to experiences that are not one’s own.

“So what I had dreaded became a celebration of the power of books, the importance of having opportunities for students to have the freedom to choose and learn, and the important role that literature and our libraries play a role in our education, ”Matthews said at a press conference. press conference hosted by the Utah Library Advocates, where a new eBook that aims to help parents understand First Amendment protections for literature and library protocols was presented. The meeting also provided suggestions on how to deal with the related issues or issues.

The press conference comes after a wave of book-related challenges at school and public libraries in Utah and across the country, and an effort to arrest librarians or teachers for sharing books some find objectionable with students.

Utah Library Association president Rita Baguio Christensen said librarians respond to calls for help from state librarians on a daily basis.

One situation greatly alarmed educators, and it was at this point, in late October, that a complaint from a single parent in the Canyons school district prompted nine books to be removed from the bookshelves of four high school libraries. This was a violation of district policy, which requires disputed books to remain in circulation until a review is completed. District officials, however, said the situation was not within their policy, as the parents’ complaint revealed a loophole in their rules by not allowing challenges from outside the school community, including a request for district office review.

This policy, which was just approved in May 2020, is being rewritten and will be presented for the second time on Tuesday evening at the Canyons School Board meeting. Several of the 10 speakers pointed to the myriad of problems with taking books off the road for all children due to objection by one or both parents.

“Books save lives,” said Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah. “They contain the stories, myths and adventures that open us to the possibilities of who we are and what we can become. In different eras there have always been reactionary fearmakers who seek to silence the voices of the novel and unique. “

Peter Bromberg hadn’t planned to share a personal observation, but was prompted to do so after most community leaders shared their thoughts. A longtime fan of Charles M. Schulz and the Peanuts comics, he said he receives a hardcover copy of a comic book collection each year on his birthday. This year’s collection contained an essay by Al Roker, “Today” host and meteorologist, on the introduction of the comic book’s first black character, Franklin, in 1968. Schulz said he received threats afterwards have introduced the character.


Regardless of the rhetoric and things that have taken out of context to shock and frighten us, some people just want to take the existence of other people out of their reality and their children’s perception of reality. That’s what it’s about.

–Peter Bromberg, former executive director of the Salt Lake City Public Library


Bromberg was visibly moved when he shared his thoughts on how those same complaints echoed through the book-related challenges that have occurred in school districts across the state.

“And I’m afraid the same motivation that existed in July 1968,” he said, “the motivation to simply erase the representation of a human being’s existence and the experience of human beings is at the core. absolute heart of what is happening today. “

He continued, “Whatever rhetoric and things that have taken out of context to shock and frighten us, it boils down to the fact that some people just want to take the existence of other people out of their reality and the perception of. their children. ‘Reality. That’s what it is. “

A number of speakers spoke of conversations with young people who referred to literature and libraries as their “safe haven”. The challenges, they said, do not come from the students. They come from parents who want to remove the books, not only from the life of their own child, but from the lives of all children.

“We just need to redirect that parental energy,” said Lehua Parker, author and literary coordinator of PIK2AR. “Instead of parents focusing on the books they don’t want in the library, I think they should create lists of the books they want in the library. They should send their students to libraries with lists. books that they approve, that they want their child to read, so that their child can check them out and have a reading experience. And don’t worry too much about what’s in someone’s backpack. ‘another. “

She continued, “Books don’t do anything. It’s the experience a reader has with a book that transfers knowledge, and they don’t even take the time to understand what’s in the book. “

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