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Iowa Library Association's intellectual freedom committee encourages libraries to defend diverse books

A line of books.
Tom Hermans
Iowa Library Association's intellectual freedom committee encourages libraries' books to reflect a diverse number of experiences.

The Iowa Library Association’s intellectual freedom committee is encouraging librarians to defend books depicting diverse experiences.

Across the state,Iowa parents are challenging books within schools’ curriculum that tell the stories of LGBT people or people of color. In a conversation with the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa on Monday, chair of the intellectual freedom committee and director of the Dubuque County Library District Amanda Vasquez urged libraries to consider the first amendment rights of young people when reviewing challenges.

Vasquez said the surge of book challenges could have a chilling impact on what materials are available to students.

“I would encourage folks to keep those materials in their collections while they can and to continue to make collection development decisions as if there was not a challenge breathing down your neck, as difficult as that can be,” she said.

Parents and state politicians are calling for the removal of books they view as “obscene” from Ankeny, Waukee, Johnston, Urbandale and West Des Moines school districts in central Iowa alone. Some state legislators are calling for teachers who allow access to these books to be charged with a felony.

Vasquez said she understands if librarians feel the need to protect their jobs in these situations. But she said she hopes each library commits to considering balancing parents’ concerns with the first amendment rights of students.

“Parents have a right and a responsibility to guide their child or their minors’ use of the library. But it's not up to the library to enforce those restrictions on those students or minors,” she said.

Iowa libraries across the state are seeing a surge in challenges of books that deal with LGBT sexual experiences or discussions of racism and racial identity.

But Vasquez said she believes libraries have the responsibility to represent their diverse communities within their materials. She said it’s essential to shaping their understanding of others.

“There's also this desire to insulate children and make sure that they don't feel uncomfortable and I understand that impulse,” she said. “....But I think that there's a lot of empathy building that happens during those conversations.”

In the Johnston Community School District, parents and lawmakers have complainedabout the inclusion of “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie in school libraries.

Author Alexie issued a statement yesterday in support of students and teachers who have spoken out in defense of his novel. He said he believes in the freedom of young people to read.

“It’s wildly condescending to assume that adults, even parents, know what young people want or need to read,” he stated.

Sherman Alexie, author of "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian", issued a statement in support of those defending his book in the Johnston Community School District.
Sherman Alexie, author of "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian", issued a statement in support of those defending his book in the Johnston Community School District.

After a formal review process, the school district decided to keep the books in the classroom. However, Ankeny Community School District has removed “Gender Queer: A Memoir”after review of the book’s material.

Vasquez encourages Iowa libraries to continue to enact review processes whenever there are complaints about their materials.

“I like having people involved in their library, who are users of their library and who have opinions about what should be in their library,” she said. “But I’m definitely concerned about the through-line of the types of challenges that are coming up.”

Kendall was Iowa Public Radio’s western Iowa reporter based in Sioux City, IA until Jan. 20, 2023.