Point of View: Banning books corrodes diversity and inclusion in our community

The Homer Public Library is beloved by the Homer community and well-regarded further afield for its innovative programming, responsive approaches to lifelong learning and information access, inviting spaces, and high quality books and other media. Families, kids, and teens know they can go to the library to learn about new skills and ideas, be entertained, and most of all be welcome.

Recently, a community member requested that a long list of books be removed from the children’s collection. The challenged titles include the award-winning picture books “Everywhere Babies” by Susan Myers, “Julian is a Mermaid” by Jessica Love, and “Black is a Rainbow Color” by Angela Joy and important nonfiction resources for parents and kids like “Sex is a Funny Word” by Cory Silverberg. HPL, like other libraries, has a formal process for requesting that books be “reconsidered,” but the policy clearly states that “individual or group prejudice about a particular item or type of material in the collection may not preclude its use by others.” The long list equates to a book ban, not a reconsideration.

According to the challenger’s online petition, the titles “indoctrinate children in LGBTQ+ ideologies.” They do something much less nefarious – they, in fact, reflect the diverse community we live in. Written by highly regarded authors and illustrators, they celebrate the realities, imagination and information needs of children. LGBTQ+ is not an anonymous group of people living in faraway places. Erasing LGBTQ+ people from children’s books hurts all Homer families and their children instead of protecting them from some fabricated evil.

The librarians who select the titles added to the library’s collection are highly skilled, involved in the community, and believe in the library’s mission – to serve “the diverse needs of our community members by providing access to information, promoting literacy, and facilitating lifelong learning.” The children’s collection, along with these titles, aims to reflect you, me and our neighbors. It also connects young readers and their families with experiences different from their own. This is how empathy and understanding are born.

Each family that walks into the library wants the best for their children. Caregivers are integrated into the children’s library experience; from programming to official policies with statements such as HPL “encourages parents to be involved with their children’s reading and library use and will work with parents to find materials they deem appropriate for their children…” This approach respects that parents and caregivers are their children’s first teachers, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity, and does not value one type of family over another.

Books that include a variety of family types, storylines, skin colors, and cultural events, provide kids, teens, and their families more opportunities to see themselves and their lived experience represented in the books they read, making the reading experience more meaningful. This can help a child read and learn. If books include something new this is incredibly valuable also.

Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, an expert in children’s literature, wrote “Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience.”

There is not just one way to live, read, learn, or love. Increasing checkouts year over year, ongoing popularity of programs, and significant donations to the library are just a few nods towards its longstanding success as a public institution and the appreciation felt for what the library offers. This requested book ban does not reflect the needs and wishes of the Homer community.

Claudia Haines is the CEO of Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic and a former Youth Services Librarian at HPL.

Ann DIxon is a children’s book author and the retired Library Director at HPL.