No book ban requests in Tri-Lakes region
SARANAC LAKE — In the Tri-Lakes, residents can read whatever they’d like.
Local librarians and public school administrators are reporting no formal requests for any books to be removed from Tri-Lakes region libraries.
A report from the American Library Association released in March found that attempted book bans and restrictions soared across the country to more than 1,200 last year, nearly doubling the number of challenges from the year prior. A report from nonprofit free speech advocacy group PEN America has that number at 2,532 challenges against 1,648 books, based on data collected between July 2021 and June 2022.
But in the Tri-Lakes region, librarians and public school administrators are saying that they’ve received no requests to remove books from circulation.
Most book challenges and bans in 2022 were fielded in school districts — around 58% of books targeted in 2022, according to the ALA’s study.
“We have had no book ban attempts,” Saranac Lake Central School District Superintendent Diane Fox wrote in an email.
Lake Placid Central School District Superintendent Timothy Seymour said he’s “not addressed any concerns” about books to date, but LPCSD also has a policy in place in case there’s ever a request to remove a book from circulation.
In the Tupper Lake Central School District, some residents have asked whether the school has some specific titles, but there haven’t been any formal requests to remove books, according to Tupper Lake Central School District Superintendent Russ Bartlett.
Keene Central School District Superintendent Dan Mayberry said that not only has the school not received any requests for books to be removed from the school library, he has no interest in having that happen in Keene.
“I personally do not have any interest in censorship of book access,” he said.
Maggie Sheldon, KCS’ middle-high school librarian since 1990, said that as far as she knows, there’s never been a challenged book at the district. She said the district has policies on file in case of a challenge.
Around 41% of book challenges targeted materials in public libraries, according to the ALA.
Representatives of public libraries around the Tri-Lakes, including the Saranac Lake Free Library, the Tupper Lake’s Goff-Nelson Memorial Library, the Keene Valley Public Library and the Wilmington E.M. Cooper Memorial Public Library, said they haven’t fielded a book ban request, either — not in 2022 or in any years prior.
But they have heard criticism related to a book’s content or cover. Some books at the SLFL with LGBTQIA-plus content, titles and covers have come up missing, said library clerk Peggy Orman, like “David Bowie Made Me Gay: 100 Years of LGBT Music” by Darryl W. Bullock.
SLFL Director Jake Widrick noted a negative comment on the library’s weekly “book face Friday” social media post on Jan. 13, which featured a photo of two people posing behind “Tell Me How You Really Feel” by Aminah Mae Safi, an LGBTQIA-plus young adult book whose cover pictures two women sharing a romantic gaze. One person commented, “Great — our public library is grooming our daughters. Stop with the woke ideology already!”
But these efforts to criticize and limit the exposure of certain reading material at the library haven’t gotten very far. The negative social media comment was met with a slew of replies, like one that read, “I hate to break it to you, but gay people have existed since the dawn of time,” and a formal complaint was never filed. And when a book like “David Bowie Made Me Gay” goes “missing,” the library simply buys it again and recirculates it.
“That’s just more support for the author,” Widrick said.
Banned books on display
Not only are local public libraries reporting a lack of book challenges — some librarians said they’re even reaping rewards from national book-banning efforts. When a book is banned somewhere in the country, Widrick said, more people get curious and start checking out that book at SLFL.
Samantha Baer, the director of the Wilmington E.M. Cooper Memorial Library, reported the same at her library. Right now, Baer said people in Wilmington — including Baer’s 22-year-old daughter — are reading a lot of Jodi Picoult books. Twenty of Picoult’s books were banned in a school district in Martin County, Florida in March, including one about the Holocaust which the district banned for themes of “fascism,” Picoult said in an interview ABC News.
At the Keene Valley Library, Director Karen Glass said her library intentionally purchases diverse books that might be under fire for their content elsewhere, and her patrons enjoy reading them.
“If it’s banned in Texas, we buy it in Keene Valley,” she said.
These books are shelved on Keene Valley Public Library’s “diversity” shelves — one in the children’s section and another juvenile fiction section. Aidan Durant, who’s now a senior at Keene Central School, said that in 2018 he and some other KCS students — members of what was then known as Keene Valley’s Youth Library Board — curated those shelves.
The Keene Valley Library will be hosting a Banned Book Open House from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 3.
Elementary school teachers at KCS had been asking for a diversity collection at the library, a section filled with books they could use in class to teach kids about themes of diversity, equity and inclusion. Durant grew up going to the Crandall Public Library in Glens Falls, where he saw a shelf devoted to LGBTQIA-plus literature, and he thought a similar shelf would be perfect for the Keene Valley Public Library. Glass said the shelves, which have around 85 books altogether and feature many commonly banned books, are popular with patrons. Some people walk into the library and make a beeline for the shelves, she said.
Local libraries like SLFL and the Wilmington library highlight banned books, too, especially during the ALA’s “banned books” week in October. Baer said she prioritizes keeping banned books on her library’s shelves because of what the books could represent to the reader. Banned books often feature characters from a demographic minority — people of different races, genders, sexual orientations, abilities and religions — many of which Baer said aren’t represented in the North Country.
For a kid in Wilmington who’s growing up as one of the only people of color in their town, or for a kid with a non-heterosexual orientation or a non-cisgender identity, diverse books offer an opportunity for diverse kids to see themselves reflected, according to Baer.
Most libraries and school districts, despite not having any formal requests for books to be banned, have policies in place in case a request is filed.
If there is a complaint lodged against a book at Lake Placid Central School District, for example — whether that be a library book, textbook or some other instructional material — the principal would be asked to meet with the person who files the complaint and the staff member using the book or the school librarian, per district policy. If the complaint isn’t resolved, a written complaint could be filed with the superintendent, who would then designate an Instructional Review Committee to investigate and judge the challenged material, according to district policy. The committee would issue an opinion to the superintendent, who would then decide whether or not to ban the book. If the person making the complaint isn’t satisfied with the superintendent’s decision, they would then have the opportunity to appeal the decision to the school board, which would have the final say.
LPCSD’s policy on book challenges was adopted in 2011 and last revised in 2014.
In the case that a book is formally challenged at the Lake Placid Public Library, library policy highlights the First Amendment and a statement from the ALA’s Bill of Rights: “Materials shall not be excluded due to their origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.”
Anyone who wants to challenge materials circulated at the LPPP is required to fill out a form that asks for a description of what concerns them about the material in question and asks the challenger if they have “examined” the entirety of the challenged material in question. The latter question is the sticking point of the form, according to Widrick and Baer, who said that book challenges often come from people who aren’t familiar with the material itself.
Courtney Carey, the director of the Tupper Lake library, said her library has a similar challenged materials policy in place. Challenged materials forms go directly to her, and she said she would discuss the material in question with the challenger. Thankfully, she said, she hasn’t had to do that.
TLCSD, too, has a policy in place for objections to books, according to Bartlett. The district’s policy mirrors that of other districts in the region.
The vast majority of book ban requests in 2022 were lodged in Texas, Florida, Tennessee and Pennsylvania, according to PEN America.
Book ban requests are fairly uncommon in New York state — according to PEN America, there were a total of 13 book ban requests in New York school districts between July 2021 and June 2022.
Those requests were lodged in only four school districts: Marlboro Central School District, Yorktown Central School District, Wappingers Central School District and Connetquot Central School District.
Of those requests, 10 came from groups outside of the school district and only three came from school administrators, according to PEN America.
All of the books feature LGBTQ-plus characters or people of color; the majority of the books deal with racism or LGBTQ-plus themes. Books are often banned for featuring LGBTQIA-plus content, sexual abuse and “sexually explicit” content. According to the ALA, the number one challenged book in 2022 was “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe, a book that recounts the author’s exploration of gender identity and sexuality. A “vast majority” of books challenged in 2022, the ALA study found, were written by or about members of the LGBTQIA-plus community and people of color. However, ALA President Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada said in a statement in March, efforts to ban these books are often spearheaded by a “vocal minority.”
The books subject to book ban attempts in New York include:
– “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas (Challenged at Yorktown Central, remains in circulation)
– “Dear Martin” by Nic Stone (Banned in libraries and classrooms at Marlboro Central)
– “Jack of Hearts (and other parts)” by L.C. Rosen (Challenged at Yorktown Central, remains in circulation)
– “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Perez (Challenged at Yorktown Central, remains in circulation)
– “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison (Challenged at Yorktown Central, remains in circulation)
– “Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out” by Susan Kuklin (Challenged at Yorktown Central, remains in circulation)
– “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe (Challenged at Yorktown Central, remains in circulation; banned at Connetquot Central pending an investigation; banned from libraries and classrooms at Wappingers Central)
– “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson (Challenged at Yorktown Central, remains in circulation)
– “Looking for Alaska” by John Green (Challenged at Yorktown Central, remains in circulation)
– “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison (Challenged at Yorktown Central, remains in circulation)
– “The Poet X” by Elizabeth Acevedo (Banned in libraries and classrooms at Marlboro Central) All of these books can be requested locally through the Clinton-Essex-Franklin library system or at public school libraries. They can also be purchased at local bookstores.