The PBS show Amanpour & Co. went on an aggrieved rant Monday evening over the supposed threat of book banning. Host Christiane Amanpour set up the interview with the president of the notoriously liberal American Library Association, a group always eager to see dangerous book bans coming from the right, while ignoring squelching of both fiction and non-fiction from the left via Amazon, “sensitivity readers,” and posthumous editing.
The library lobby has put out yet another misleading report on “book bans” in America and Amanpour & Co. were ready to spread hysteria:
Amanpour: Book banning reaches new heights. Hari Sreenivasan talks to the president of the American Library Association about how LGBTQ, black, and indigenous stories are being silenced.
Lessa Kanani'opua Pelayo-Lozada of the ALA read parents’ minds and found them to be hopelessly bigoted:
So, what are we seeing are organized efforts for book removals and challenges in public and school libraries across the country. These organized groups are gathering folks across the nation with list of books that they haven't even read it to have them removed, often for sexually explicit content, but what they're really targeting are LGBTQ stories and histories as well as people of color stories and histories.
Hari Sreenivasan: And so, that's a common thread that you're seeing between all the books that are being challenged?
Pelayo-Lozada: Absolutely. On our top 10 list, which was expanded to top 13 list, because that's just kind of how dire the situation we are in. There were so many ties on our top 10 band books list that we had two expand it. Every single title had the guise of being banned under sexually explicit. But the themes that were in it, the stories and the characters that were featured had primarily LGBTQ backgrounds and black and indigenous histories.
Yet peer behind the rhetoric and it’s clear that most book challenges involve parents being concerned about the age-appropriateness of sexually explicit material, often in picture form.
Pelayo-Lozada inserted liberal talking points:
….in Florida, we're seeing the Don't Say Gay bill and then, we're seeing a ton of LGBTQ books on the list for removal. Previously, it was Critical Race Theory-related books like The 1619 Project that were under attack in those spaces as well…..
Sreenivasan’s question about previous “challenges” to books allowed the ALA head to weigh in on previous culture wars.
Pelayo-Lozada: ….You know, the '80s book banning was a pushback against the '70s women's liberation, Roe v. Wade, continued civil rights, also, the gay rights movement. And we're seeing that today also, pushback against coming out of the pandemic, George Floyd's murder, and increasing gay rights and trans rights….
Sreenivasan didn’t mount any challenges to his guest’s extreme liberal viewpoint, instead setting her up to attack the right with this non-question:
You point out in your report that it is not just books that are the sole target of attacks orchestrated by the conservative parent groups and right-wing media, both school and public librarians are increasingly in the crosshairs of conservative groups during book challenges and subject to defamatory name-calling, online harassment, social media attacks and doxxing, which is to publicize where their personal information, as well as direct threats to their safety, their employment and their very liberty.
Pelayo-Lozada: Yes. It's a very scary time for library workers….
A transcript is below, click "Expand" to read:
Amanpour & Co.
May 1, 2023
AMANPOUR: All right. Penry Gustafson, thank you so much. State senator in South Carolina.
And now, from a sanctuary to about a battleground, libraries are at the center of another polarizing debate dividing the U.S. in these ongoing culture wars. Attempts to censor books have escalated to levels unseen since striking began decades ago. After elected officials and activist groups ramped up efforts to target certain titles.
As librarians find themselves on the front lines of the battle for intellectual freedom, the president of the American Library Association speaks to Hari Sreenivasan about the year of the book bans.
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, thanks. And thank you to Lessa Kanani'opua Pelayo-Lozada, the president of the American Library Association. Thank you for joining us. We want to talk a little bit about this report that you've put out. And this is startling because what you say is that there have been more books challenged since ever -- since your organization began tracking this. And just so our audience is clear, what is a kind of challenge to a book in a school district or a school mean?
LESSA KANANI'OPUA PELAYO-LOZADA, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION: Absolutely. So, a challenge is a formal complaint by a parent or a patron, if we're talking a public library, to have a book removed from the collection, to restrict access to it for everyone else in the community.
SREENIVASAN: 2,500 challenged books, and that's nearly double the number of titles that people sought to ban just a year ago. What's behind this?
PELAYO-LOZADA: Yes. So, what are we seeing are organized efforts for book removals and challenges in public and school libraries across the country. These organized groups are gathering folks across the nation with list of books that they haven't even read it to have them removed, often for sexually explicit content, but what they're really targeting are LGBTQ stories and histories as well as people of color stories and histories.
SREENIVASAN: And so, that's a common thread that you're seeing between all the books that are being challenged?
PELAYO-LOZADA: Absolutely. On our top 10 list, which was expanded to top 13 list, because that's just kind of how dire the situation we are in. There were so many ties on our top 10 band books list that we had two expand it. Every single title had the guise of being banned under sexually explicit. But the themes that were in it, the stories and the characters that were featured had primarily LGBTQ backgrounds and black and indigenous histories.
SREENIVASAN: Were you surprised at any of them that showed up on that list?
PELAYO-LOZADA: I was definitely surprised. So, many the titles were also on last year's list, a fair number of them. But we saw titles which appear on the list that haven't been out there in years, like "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" and "Crank" by Ellen Hopkins. And so, part of that, I think, is that individuals are using previous top 10 list to determine what books they want to see challenged without understanding the context of it. And that helps us as library workers to be quite honest because we can see the trend, we can -- it also helps us to determine what organized efforts there are or when individuals are not challenging books in good faith and are not interested in having a conversation about whether it is right or wrong for our community library.
SREENIVASAN: Is this happening more at school libraries or at public sort of town libraries?
PELAYO-LOZADA: It's happening in both. So, about 50/50, between the public and school libraries. There are few challenges that do happen in academic
spaces as well as schools in generals, and not necessarily school libraries. But this is a national event.
I think that individuals often characterize it as a red state, blue state. But what we saw in 2022 was that nearly every single state in the United
States had a least one challenge. The only state that didn't have any reported challenges was Nevada. But we also rely on self-reporting and
verifying challenges in the news.
And so, a lot of challenges go unreported because individuals are afraid to speak out. Although the American Library Association provides
confidentiality and confidential one-on-one assistance to those who need it.
SREENIVASAN: OK. So, what happens after these challenges?
PELAYO-LOZADA: So, we have recommended selection policy tool kits of the American Library Association that individual libraries can use. But
libraries are hyper local institutions. So, each one handles it a little bit differently.
However, we have recommended practices, such as when you receive a formal challenge, you don't remove the book off the shelf until a committee had
has time to review it so that everybody still has access to that information, to that book.
But what we're seeing also are a number of libraries and jurisdictions who are jumping over those policies and procedures and just removing the books
straight out, whether it's because they are part of these organized attacks or they are using it for their own moral agenda.
SREENIVASAN: Many of these challenges are wrapped in the language of parental rights. And at the core of that conversation or at that point of view is that, I'm parent and I shouldn't have the authority to tell my child things about race, about sexuality at a time when I know my child might be ready to handle it or absorb it and that it's maybe not the place of the school district to decide for me.
And I mean, I'm sure you've heard that 100 times. What's kind of your last response to that line of thinking?
PELAYO-LOZADA: Yes. So, it's really important for us to remember that parents absolutely have the right to parent their children. They have the right as a family to decide what they read together, to decide when their children are ready for certain topics. But they don't have that right to make that decision for other people's families.
We know that our children develop so many skills through reading, whether it's empathy, whether it is, you know, scientific skills, skills that they need for school are also skills to understand how to deal with the complex issues that they are dealing with in their lives. And our children and ourf amilies go through so many different stages and experience at different times that we have to make sure that families have access to these materials when they need them and are not being restricted by others who disagree or want to dictate when they need those resources.
SREENIVASAN: According to PEN America, the most prevalent states where this is happening are Florida, Texas, Missouri, Utah, South Carolina. Is there something happening in those states that makes this fight so much more vociferous or even effective?
PELAYO-LOZADA: I think that we're seeing it mirror what is happening in legislative areas as well. Those states often have laws that are trying to be passed that restrict access on the state level. It's not just the local library level or even a citywide level, it is a statewide level that they are trying to restrict access to information but also, trying to restrict access to individual rights and liberties.
So, in Florida, we're seeing the Don't Say Gay bill and then, we're seeing a ton of LGBTQ books on the list for removal. Previously, it was criticalrace theory related books like The 1619 Project that were under attack in those spaces as well. So, we are seeing these challenges near what is happening in our broader national and state conversations.
SREENIVASAN: Is there an uptick around kind of political years and political cycles? I mean, in President Biden's campaign video for his 2024 relaunch, he called out this specific topic as well.
PELAYO-LOZADA: Yes. So, I think that these challenges are going to continue through the election year. A lot of politicians, especially right now, are using this as a political wedge issue. And so, I think that we have to remain steadfast and ask our individuals to unite against book bans with us because we cannot do this alone as library workers. We have to have the majority of voices who we now are opposed to book bans join us and talk to their legislators and not let them use this as part of their political games.
SREENIVASAN: Challenging books or trying to ban books has an incredibly long history, probably as far back as whenever the first book was printed.
That said, do you find anything different now in the speed or the force of these challenges in 2023, just given the data and how much more challenges, how many more challenges are in 2022 and 2021?
PELAYO-LOZADA: We definitely do. It is so much easier now to organize individuals and also to spread misinformation, through using the internet, through using social media groups. And so, that's really, I think, the difference between book banning now and book banning that we saw in the '80s. I think some of the themes are very similar. You know, the '80s book banning was a pushback against the '70s women's liberation, Roe v. Wade, continued civil rights, also, the gay rights movement. And we're seeing that today also, pushback against coming out of the pandemic, George Floyd's murder, and increasing gay rights and trans rights. And so, those themes are similar from the '80s to now, but how are individuals who are challenging books are organizing is much different, and there is much easier access to be able to spread misinformation in that way.
SREENIVASAN: You know, there seem to be kind of different attacks on books. On the one hand, you have people concerned that there might be too much sexuality in books or concepts and conversations about race, but you also have attacks on books and characters that might have been racist then and certainly are deemed racist now. But I kind of wonder how you deal with the content or you just say, this isn't about content all?
PELAYO-LOZADA: Yes. So, I think the same principle applies. You know, we do look at content when we are deciding what books to put into our libraries because we want to make sure that they represent our communities' values as well as the larger broader society that we are living in.
And so, it's really important for us to also remember when we are looking at books who are considered classics, right, often "To Kill a Mockingbird," also shows up on banned book lists. So does "Of Mice and Men." And so, these are things that we are often taught in high schools and part of our curriculum.
We have to remember to take these into the historical context that they were written in and find the value, just like when we look at our banned books list today and things are trying to be banned for being sexually explicit, it's often one or two passages that are within a larger text that to help us to understand the journey of a character or the journey of the history of an individual.
And so, it's important for us to remember, again, that, you know, everyone has the right to decide what they want to read but they don't have the right to dictate or decide that for other individuals. And so, we want to make sure that our collections are as inclusive as possible and are as broad as possible to provide as many different viewpoints to a situation as is responsible for us to do.
SREENIVASAN: Does this ALA take a position towards publishers who are thinking about reediting what we might think are classic books?
PELAYO-LOZADA: We don't have an official stance on that, that I would be able to comment on.
SREENIVASAN: Do you find publishers that are trying to reedit books to make sure that they're still available and they can still be sold and shared?
PELAYO-LOZADA: We -- I have read some instances of that. I believe a number of Roald Dahl's books were recently "updated." And I think that those decisions should be made between the publisher and the author or the author's estate, depending on where the rights for the book are held.
But I think that really understanding the context that our books were written in is essential to understanding how our society has changed over the years. And I think that one of the things also that we kind of get mired in is that books that we read as a child, we have to have our children also read, even though they may be outdated, and I don't think that that is a viewpoint that we need to hold anymore. I think that sometimes they are wonderful to share, but sometimes they were right for us in the moment.
They were so many things that I read as a kid in the late '80s, early '90s that I probably -- I would not share with children today. And as a children's librarian, I need the choice to not share because they did what they needed to do for me, but our children have so many wonderful stories to be able to pick from today, why don't we choose some of the new things that are out there as well?
SREENIVASAN: You point out in your report that it is not just books that are the sole target of attacks orchestrated by the conservative parent groups and right-wing media, both school and public librarians are increasingly in the crosshairs of conservative groups during book challenges and subject to defamatory name-calling, online harassment, social media attacks and doxing, which is to publicize where their personal information, as well as direct threats to their safety, their employment and their very liberty.
PELAYO-LOZADA: Yes. It's a very scary time for library workers. You know, one of the things that we risk when our library workers are not able to do their jobs is we risk the inability of our libraries to function the way that they should as spaces for creativity and learning, as spaces of resources for veterans and small business owners and families. Libraries are community space.
And so, when our library workers are under attack and cannot do their jobs or being fired or jailed or fined for doing their jobs, we have to come to their aid. Our librarians and our library workers are trusted individuals in their communities. We know that. We know that because from a survey that the American Library Association did in March 2022, it showed that 90 percent of bipartisan respondents held their library workers in high regard and also, had a lot of faith and high regard for the work that we do in our communities.
So, we know this is also vocal minority of individuals who are doing these organized efforts. From that same poll, 71 percent of bipartisan voters that were polled said that they did not support challenged books, that they did not support removing books from the public library. And so, when our library workers go out into their communities, they have that trust, but they are also fearful. They're fearful of their lives.
SREENIVASAN: So, are librarians asking you for support? And if so, what sort of support are you able to offer?
PELAYO-LOZADA: Our library workers are absolutely asking us for support. So, at the American Library Association and through our Office for Intellectual Freedom, as we have always done, we provide one-on-one confidential support for library workers, whether it be working on their policy to make sure that it reflects standard practices that will protect them and their jobs, as well as the materials in their collections, whether it is legal advice, making sure that they have the tools they need if they are being sued or facing jail time or legislation, or also financial support can often come into the needs of our library workers if they are experiencing job loss or hardship.
And so, we have funds like the merit fund that individuals can donate to, to help them ensure that they are able to live their lives while they are experiencing this. And then, we also provide emotional support. These are really challenging times.
As you've said earlier, you know, our library workers are experiencing mental health crisis and coming out of the trauma, also, of a pandemic where many library workers were on the front lines every single day and did not have the opportunity to work from the safety of home. And so, we're first responders and putting their lives on the line. So, all of that combined, the American Library Association is very serious about making sure that our library workers have the tools they need either from us or from their local administrations and jurisdictions.
SREENIVASAN: Besides the content challenges, there have traditionally been budget constraints for libraries around the country. And I'm wondering whether some of these kinds of attacks that might be political in nature wind their way up and say, well, I guess we're just going to make these libraries available not so much on Saturday and Sundays anymore, or maybe only three days a week instead of five.
PELAYO-LOZADA: Yes. We are frequently on the chopping block because I think that the value of libraries as being intrinsic to a successful community is often underappreciated. And so, what we're seeing now with book challenges in Llano, Texas, for instance, a judge ordered that books that had been removed from the collection be put back onto the shelf.
And so, the city officials held an emergency meeting to try to defund the library, to try to close stores. They'd rather have no library than have a library that has books that represent everyone in the community. And so, the community came out. They protested. They showed up to that meeting. And the board decided to not close the library.
And so, when we are able to articulate the value of our libraries, not just during book challenges, but during every day where we can demonstrate the impact that the life-changing transformative impacts that we make on individuals, it's really essential for those funding conversations when politicians and city officials have to make really difficult decisions.
SREENIVASAN: Lessa Kanani'opua Pelayo-Lozada, the president of the American Library Association, thank you so much for joining us.
PELAYO-LOZADA: Thank you so much for having me.