Amid a dramatic increase in the number of books facing library or school bans across the country, the Douglas County Library is spotlighting challenged media for National Banned Books Week.
Banned Books Week runs September 18-24 and celebrates free and open access to information by highlighting censorship and the dangers of books that are often targets of banned books. So far this year, the American Library Association has reported 681 book challenges, nearly reaching 2021’s 729 book challenges.
Bucking the trend, Douglas County Libraries have not faced a ton of challenges with books on their shelves, said Bob Pasicznyuk, executive director of the Douglas County Library. He said he has dealt with only one complaint so far this year and has never gotten to the point of taking material from the library because of the challenges he faced during his eight-year tenure.
Pasicznyuk said most complaints were handled by listening to patrons’ concerns, but there was often little that libraries could do. He pointed out that taxpayer-backed libraries essentially meant they operated as a department of government, so removing access to material would be censorship.
“We stock books that people need, so if a citizen needs a book and another citizen asks for it to be removed so they can’t use it, that’s where (complaints) usually break down,” he said. “To us That said, the definition of censorship is not people making decisions for themselves…but when they’re trying to make choices for their neighbors.”
Pasicznyuk said library policy does allow parents and guardians to have more control over what materials their children can view. For parents of children 14 years old or younger, there is an option to limit the use of library cards to teen category media.
“Some people may say that a certain book is not safe for a child, or that it is risky for a child to hold that book in their hands. Our policy puts those decisions directly in the hands of parents,” Pasicznyuk said.
Many of the top 10 most challenging books for 2021 are young adult fiction, mostly LGBTQ themes or characters, or discussions of racism.
Pasicnyuk said he has received comments and concerns about various books in the library, such as media that depict violence, include anti-vaccine views, depict sexual or sexual behavior, or reflect anti-law enforcement ideology.
Book challenges often reflect civic tensions or contemporary controversies, Pasicnyuk said.
“If you look at the books that people have opposed over a 10-year period, you’ll find almost all of them, including a lot of classics,” he said. “It was pretty much a mirror of the social pressures at the time.”
When it comes to stocking library shelves, libraries order books and media based on popular books and media such as bestsellers, classics or trends, and specific materials on customer request, Pasicznyuk said. DCL also partners with other Front Range libraries and universities to share media in the region.
“We look at the trends from the previous year and dissect what people are looking for and what dictates what we buy, so it’s a very market-driven approach,” Pasicnyuk said. “We keep some money for requests, and I’d say 75% of the time we just buy it, maybe 25% of the time we have other sources to get a book from anywhere in Front Range.”
Currently, DCL offers each of the 10 most challenging books of 2021, although some are already checked out or have a hold list.