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ImagineIF Libraries will forgo Banned Books Week celebrations under board guidance

by TAYLOR INMAN
Daily Inter Lake | September 12, 2023 12:00 AM

Signage and displays marking Banned Books Week will be missing from ImagineIF Libraries this year after the library system’s board of trustees advised staff against celebrating it.

Banned Books Week aims to raise awareness about the freedom to read and previous attempts at censorship by highlighting books that have been removed or banned from libraries and schools. The campaign is promoted by the American Library Association.

Board Chair David Ingram said trustees have distanced themselves from the American Library Association since voting to leave it in December 2021. The Montana State Library broke away from the association this summer, citing similar reasoning — that the group allegedly promotes “Marxists politics.”

“They kind of control the narrative for that event,” Ingram said of the national association. “And my sense was that the board was not excited about celebrating it and would rather focus on issues like freedom to read and literacy, and things that were a little less divisive, from my perspective. So the board can redirect me in their desires, but that’s my sense at the moment.”

Trustee Doug Adams said that the American Library Association’s influence on Banned Books Week aside, he believes the celebration is too divisive.

Asked about how the board came to the conclusion to forgo Banned Books Week festivities, Ingram said he based his decision on his observations of how other trustees feel about it and the American Library Association.

EFFORTS TO ban books have skyrocketed in the United States over the last two years, according to a recent report from The New York Times. A growing number of public libraries have responded to complaints by moving books out of the children’s section or placing them in a restricted area where parental permission is required. According to a report from literary advocacy group Pen America, many of these banned books touch on topics pertaining to race or being LGBTQ+.

Book challenges, or the formal process of removing a book at the library, have come up multiple times in recent years at ImagineIF. Board Vice Chair Carmen Cuthbertson submitted gender identity memoir “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe to be challenged in 2021 before she was later appointed to the board in 2022.

In September 2022, trustees responded to a book challenge for “Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness” by Anastasia Higginbotham by creating a parent resource section. Parenting books and other children’s books dealing with difficult topics, such as grief and divorce, are now shelved in the same section. There is no age limit and children do not need a parent present in order to check out a book from the parent resources section.

ImagineIF Director Ashley Cummins said she’s always celebrated Banned Books Week, but with the recent challenges at the library it brings back difficult feelings for many.

“We've had a little bit of a complicated history here and we've come through the other side of it with all of our collections remaining intact,” Cummins said. “So I can see how celebrating it at this time could potentially bring up some of those old feelings. And we're not trying to do that, we're trying to move forward.”

She said their day-to-day work at ImagineIF shows that they are against censorship and support patrons’ “right to read.”

“I think the work that we do is important and we're doing it well, regardless of whether we have the [Banned Books Week] program,” Cummins said.

Reporter Taylor Inman can be reached at 406-758-4433 or by emailing tinman@dailyinterlake.com.

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