"Freedom to Read" bill aims to establish process for challenging a book in schools, public libraries

Sponsor of SB24-049 said it will hopefully head to committee next week
"Freedom to Read" bill aims to establish process for challenging a book in schools, public libraries
Posted at 7:55 AM, Feb 12, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-12 09:57:11-05

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Preliminary data shows a "record surge" of challenges to books in public libraries across the country for the first eight months of 2023, the American Library Association (ALA) reported.

A challenge to a book could result in the novel being "retained, restricted, or revoked at a school or public library."

The ALA recorded a 20% increase in challenges to books between Jan. 1 and Aug. 2023 compared to the same time period in 2022.

2022 saw the "highest number of book challenges" since the ALA started tracking the figure more than two decades ago.

Most of the challenges were to books that were "written by or about a person of color or a member of the LGBTQIA+ community," according to the ALA.

Author Lauren Myracle, who lives in Fort Collins, is accustomed to having her books banned.

“That road of being banned started with a series of books called the Internet Girls," Myracle, whose first book in the series was published in 2004, said. “Because they're girls in high school, they talk about their periods, they talk about their boyfriends, they talk about a male teacher who is not treating one of them in a way that a male teacher should."

Myracle said she was not intending to be provocative, but wanted to express what she saw as the realities of being a high school girl.

"I remember I got an email and the email said, 'Dear Lauren Myracle, this is just to let you know that you are one of the top 10 banned authors in the country because of these books.' And I just felt this huge flood of like shame and horror," Myracle remembered. “It was the parents, not all parents, but some who were saying, 'I don't want my kids hearing about contraception or hearing about, you know, young girls counseling each other on how to handle these things.'”

Myracle believes many passages in her books are taken out of context.

“The problem with the movement to ban books is that I think it is absolutely legitimate for you as a mom or me as a mom to say, 'hey, I don't want my kid reading this.' But for a parent to say, 'I don't want anybody in this school district reading this, and I'm going to make sure it happens.' I think that's a huge disservice to the kids," Myracle explained. "I don't set out ever to offend people. But I also don't set out to tell a sanitized version of a truth.”

The young adult author said books were a huge part of her youth, and described them as a safe place for readers to figure something out on their own.

“Books can serve as a window. They can let kids see a world beyond the world that maybe is the tiny little world of their backyard. And that's huge, because that creates empathy," Myracle said. "Books are also a mirror. Another thing that breaks my heart is the thought of anybody being lonely. And I'm sure you know that a lot of the books that are banned in this weirdly overzealous wave of bannings that's going on are books about LGBTQ+ kids and books about kids of color. And those are the kids I think that are likely to feel unseen. And I don't want anybody to feel unseen or unloved.”

Colorado State Sen. Lisa Cutter, D-Jefferson County is one of the prime sponsors of SB24-049, which she called the "Freedom to Read" bill.

“We're trying to set up a process for people who want to challenge a book in a school or public library," Sen. Cutter said on Sunday. “In the school portion of the bill, you have to have a child that goes to school, in that school or that district before you can challenge a book. The other thing we want to do is create some standards for that. So we can protect the protected classes, make sure that books aren't removed for discriminatory or partisan reasons all the way around.”

Cutter acknowledged that sometimes there are legitimate reasons for challenging a book, but she wants to ensure there are guidelines laid out in Colorado when it happens.

“We are moving through some challenges right now. And it's mainly around trying to thread the needle between making this process for requesting a ban to be considered, making it meaningful but also not too burdensome," Cutter said. “We're working through some issues to make this respect local control, but then also suggest some processes and require some visible transparency and accountability around those processes."

Bob Pasicznyuk has been the executive director at Douglas County Libraries for around a decade. Last year, the Douglas County Libraries Board voted unanimously to keep four LGBTQ+ books on its shelves, after an appeal process that lasted months.

“I probably have seen a dozen challenges in my 10 years, but they don't usually run clear to the Board of Trustees. Usually it's a conversation with staff that gets forwarded to me, and then I meet with the customer, and then we talk it over. And usually we find some kind of accommodation," Pasicznyuk said. “There certainly is no state or federal law in place that says this is how you have to handle it."


Local News

Douglas County library board unanimously votes against pulling four LGBTQ+ books

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Last year, Pasicznyuk said there was a good case made for moving a book from the children section to the teenager section.

Pasicznyuk does not believe banning books is a partisan issue.

“No matter if you're blue or red, or if you're Republican or Democrat, or if those don't even define you, all of us have a stake in a free and open society. If you start making restrictions, and you think they're only going to go in your favor, it's never a great idea. Then somebody else who wants to oppose your ideas will use the same restrictions against you. Freedom has its downside, but it's the best society we could ever have," Pasicznyuk said. “In a perfect world, I would say we have the Constitution in the United States. We don't need much more than that. The guarantee of Freedom of Speech seems very solid to me. But we're living in a culture today where those things are often being redefined.”

State Sen. Janice Rich, R-Delta and Mesa Counties, is a member of the Senate Education Committee. She told Denver7 while she does not support banning books, she wants to listen to testimony concerning the proposal before making any decision about her vote. "With it being such a partisan bill (all sponsors are Democrats), I hope we get a chance to hear from both sides," Rich said in a text message.

Cutter said the bill was postponed from it's original committee date. She hopes it will head to the Education Committee next week.

"Freedom to Read" bill aims to establish process for challenging books

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