Easthampton council moves to oppose book bans

Emily Williston Memorial Library in Easthampton.

Emily Williston Memorial Library in Easthampton. gazette file photo

By MADDIE FABIAN

Staff Writer

Published: 10-22-2023 5:00 PM

EASTHAMPTON — School Committee member Sam Hunter, a transgender person, remembers searching for children’s books at the public library that represented queer families like his own after he and his wife had a baby in 2016.

To Hunter’s surprise, those books were located in their own section on a high shelf, not easily accessible to children.

“I spoke with a librarian about it, there’d just kind of been a misunderstanding about where those books were supposed to go, because obviously they’re supposed to be where children can reach them,” Hunter said at a City Council Rules and Government Relations subcommittee meeting on Oct. 11.

“I remember being really happy with the outcome of that, and I think that a lot of people don’t realize how librarians really hold themselves to extremely high moral standards,” Hunter said.

In an effort to make space for diverse stories and voices, and therefore foster inclusivity and intellectual freedom, the City Council last week resolved to oppose book banning and other attempts to limit access to information at the public library and schools.

“It’s a shame that we have to defend the First Amendment in this way,” said School Committee member Megan Harvey at the Oct. 18 City Council meeting. “But I also think it’s incredibly important that we have done so and we’re sending a very clear message about the values in our city.”

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At the meeting, city councilors voted unanimously to pass two resolutions: the first supporting the mission of Easthampton Public Library to provide patrons with a diverse set of uncensored resources, programming and technology; and the second opposing book banning and other threats to freedom of expression in schools.

Both resolutions also called on the City Council to implore other cities and school districts to address challenges to books, as well as send a copy of the motion to state Rep. Dan Carey and state Sen. John Velis, both representing Easthampton.

“It should be criminal to ban books,” said City Council President Homar Gomez. “People should have the freedom to read any book, LGBTQ-plus books, Latino books, Black books.”

“I guess we don’t learn anything about history because we keep repeating it,” he said. “We should read about history. We should learn. We should read. We should open our minds to have a better world.”

As cited in the resolution, during just the first half of the 2022-2023 school year, there were 1,477 instances of book banning, according to PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans. That represented a 28% increase compared to the previous six months.

Among the most frequently challenged books are books written by or about members of the LGBTQ+ community or people of color, according to the American Library Association.

“As we ponder the concept of banning books or labeling librarians as unfit to oversee our libraries, it introduces the potential danger of preserving a stagnant state of thinking,” said Mayor Nicole LaChapelle at the meeting. “It casts a shadow over the sources that have historically offered hope and inspiration to generations.”

City Councilor Koni Denham added, “There’s a huge expectation in the workforce today for creating inclusive communities… and having access to such materials really just broadens the understanding of not only young people, but adults.”

“This is an affirmation,” Denham said.

Maddie Fabian can be reached at mfabian@gazettenet.com.