Connect with us


Challenges and bans on books are becoming more common in Iowa libraries



Iowa – A new study from the American Library Association was released on Thursday, revealing a 92% rise in the number of books that are being censored. In its 140 years of operation, the group claims that these are the highest amounts they have ever recorded.

According to the research, attempts were made in 17 states, including Iowa, to censor over 100 titles in 2023. The newly disclosed data indicates that 4,240 distinct book titles would be subject to censorship in schools and libraries in 2023. This figure substantially surpasses the previous peak from 2022, when 2,571 distinct titles were the focus of censorship.

The American Library Association found evidence of 16 attempts to limit book access, namely in Iowa. These initiatives put 259 distinct titles to the test.

Sam Helmick, the former president of the Iowa Library Association, claims that objections to and bans on books could teach individuals how not how to think. “We begin to question systems that the public has complete and total access to and that have served us well for centuries, forgetting how often libraries are incubators of opportunity and advancement to society,” says Helmick.
Helmick, who is currently the Iowa City Public Library’s Community & Access Services Coordinator, adds that discussions regarding issues over library materials are encouraged because they are crucial to upholding community confidence.

“We’re totally comfortable and happy when folks want to talk to us about concerns they have about any services, meeting rooms, titles on the shelf, how a program went because libraries reflect the communities they serve. But when we don’t apply ourselves to the process of having those open and formal conversations because they’re serious and they matter we lose, we lose our ability to not only function in an efficient way, but I think to trust each other and to take full advantage of what libraries do,” says Helmick, who is currently running for the position of president at the American Library Association.
A district court’s injunction from December of last year put a halt to an Iowa law that banned specific books from being taught in schools. Together, the Iowa State Education Association and Penguin Random House, a book publisher, filed a lawsuit last autumn opposing SF 496. According to this law, school libraries are not allowed to provide books with “descriptions or visual depictions of a sex act.” Additionally, it limits the instruction on sexual orientation.
The injunction, according to ISEA President Mike Beranek, was a relief. “That served as a signal to all of our schools that any books they had been asked to take down from their library’s shelves and some teachers had taken down from their personal classroom libraries needed to be put back up on the shelves,” says Beranek. “It’s incredibly important that all of our students are a part of the curriculum and that they hear themselves in the conversations that take place in our classroom.”

The state has filed an appeal, which has left schools in suspense while they await a ruling and given teachers ongoing concerns. “Individuals who are looking to replace books on their shelves or buy new titles have that in the back of their mind. This law created quite a bit of concern,” says Beranek.
The greatest way to support local libraries, according to Helmick, is to use them. This is especially important as librarians and educators handle the growing number of obstacles to books in Iowa and across the nation.

“Using your library is the best form of advocacy for it. We invite everybody to the table to have these conversations. The right to grievance your government is a First Amendment right, and that includes a book challenge. But let’s do it in a formal way that honors the process together,” says Helmick.

They also say it’s important to be aware of any legislation targeting tax levies and funding for libraries, saying “Funding is an access issue. We can’t even debate the books if we can no longer afford to purchase them because of the pricing of digital materials or because we are disadvantaging and disarming public libraries, school libraries and the staffing.”