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Banned Books Week Highlights Struggles of Rural, Urban Libraries

Brittany Stevens

Banned Books week was originally conceived around the titular bans. But Maeve Clark, Adult Services Coordinator at the Iowa City Public Library, says, in 2015, there are other issues of intellectual freedom to worry about.

One of those issues is "self-censorship," when librarians choose to solely stock shelves with non-controversial books. One rural librarian in Iowa, who declined to share her name, says rural libraries face different challenges than urban ones.

"At my library, the last official challenge was ten years ago, so it’s been a long time, but at the same time, we are pretty cognizant of the community we live in and we tend not to buy books that people are going to have a fit about. There’s a certain amount of self-censorship, especially when it comes to small towns."

She goes on to explain that the practice is rarely malicious, just practical.

"I believe libraries are the last bastions of true democracy, you can find out anything you want to know no matter who you are. But I also know someone who’s in a library in a town of just over a hundred people who primarily buys Christian fiction because she knows what’s going to go over well. The smaller the library the fewer the dollars you have, so you have to spend it on things your patrons are going to read."

In this edition of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe speaks with Clark about intellectual freedom. Katelyn Browne, Youth Services Librarian at the University of Northern Iowa, also joins the conversation.

Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa