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S.E. Hinton Banned In Oklahoma? Stay Gold, Ponyboy
It's your Library Censorship Roundup!
Yr Doktor Zoom somehow missed S.E. Hinton's novel The Outsiders during his misspent youth, I think I recall seeing it on some teachers' bookshelves in high school, but I know it's a much-loved coming of age story that was made into a 1983 Francis Ford Coppola movie that had the advantage of not costing nearly as much as Apocalypse Now . I also should probably check it out, because I hear it's about Bronies. Or a Ponyboy of some sort, at least. Hinton wrote it when she was 16; it was published when she was 18. It's regularly cited as a classic of the YA genre, loved for its honesty and emotional depth.
Of course, "emotional honesty" means that in lots and lots of schools, students the age of the author are unable to get the book from the school library, because it also includes gang violence, teens smoking and drinking, and cussin', so The Outsiders isn't only on lists of the best youth novels, but also on the American Library Association's list of the 100 most frequently challenged books for the 1990s . And wouldn't you know it, teens in at least one Oklahoma middle school can't find it in the library, either. A viral Twitter post Monday relayed an Oklahoma City Oklahoman article noting that The Outsiders was on a PEN America list of books banned in Oklahoma.
Stay On A Hidden Shelf, Ponyboy
“In the Oklahoman. I am appalled and mortified this is what’s coming.”
— Jami Cole (@Jami Cole) 1662398824
According to PEN, The Outsiders is "Banned from Libraries" in Bristow, Oklahoma — about 30 miles from Tulsa, Hinton's hometown, where the novel is set — although the city isn't actually named in the book.
A 2021 memo from the school district explains that in response to a complaint from "concerned parents" who had asked the district to do something about 47 books that were just plain unacceptable, the high school and middle school librarians, a counselor, and English and History teachers read all the books on the list "in their entirety," except for nine titles that the school district doesn't even own. The memo says eight books were "removed from circulation," although the memo doesn't list the titles.
Some books were kept in the high school library but flagged for "16+ content"; the district won't check those books out to kids whose parents have directed they can't borrow them.
In addition, several titles at both the high school and the middle school were moved from the school library and into classrooms, where presumably no casual browsers will come across them. The Outsiders is one of them; it's now available only in the 8th-grade classroom. The memo isn't clear on whether it can still be checked out and taken home, or whether perhaps, like highly classified documents that aren't at Mar-a-Lago, it can only be read in a Secure Compartmented Information Facility, presumably under armed guard.
Following the fuss over the PEN listing and the Oklahoman article, the Bristow schools superintendent told a local TV station — which forgot to include the superintendent's name — that the listing was "fake news," since The Outsiders is still available in the one classroom, for eighth-graders, so it's not "banned," don't you see? It's simply restricted so it's age-appropriate. That explanation didn't fly with PEN America's senior manager of free expression and education, Jeremy Young, who said however you define it, taking a book out of a library and restricting access to it is a ban.
You can put a book on the top of the spire of the clock tower and tell students that they're not allowed to take it down and claim that book has not been banned because it's still technically on school grounds.
See, that's the sort of sneaky liberal snottiness that infuriates good conservatives who prefer not to have their word games questioned.
North Idaho LoveHates Its Librarians
In other censorship, we meant to write up this infuriating story from Idaho last month, but other news kept getting in the way. But as happens so often, there have been New Developments — and even good news, at that! Here's the skinny : Months ago, a group of rightwing Christian Nationalists in Bonners Ferry, Idaho (no apostrophe), showed up with a list of 400 absolutely terrible horrible books that they wanted Kimber Glidden, the director of the Boundary County Library, to remove from the library. There was only one problem, Glidden explained: Not a single one of the books was actually owned by the library, so there was nothing for the angry mob to challenge.
But then they demanded that Glidden vow to never ever purchase any of the titles for the library, and for the library to drop its plans to join the American Library Association, which is an actual Satanic group that says people should be able to read books, even books that good Christian Patriots don't want read. The angry patriots said the ALA "promotes pedophilia" by allowing the existence of books about LGBTQ+ people, and so they launched a petition drive to recall four members of the library board, and for good measure posted signs around town saying "Our Mission is to protect children from explicit materials and grooming."
The recall group helpfully explained that all it wanted was preemptive censorship, and how could anyone disagree?
"We want a strongly written policy that will not allow the library to order materials with sex acts,” the group stated on Facebook this month, adding that the American Library Association “has brainwashed our libraries” into believing this is a First Amendment issue.
It's not about freedom, it's about stopping sex books! (Say, there are sex acts in the Bible, are there not?) The wingnuts especially freaked out when Glidden said that if enough patrons requested any of the 400 most evil books on their list, she would have to purchase it, because that's how public libraries work. They insisted that the library needed to
judge books “under God’s standards and not of the world’s standards,” according to emails obtained through open records requests.
"What they are looking for us to do is say we will never get a book that offends them personally, which is pretty hard to define, and not really the point of the library,” [Lee] Colson, the [library] trustee, said.
The library — which in 2017 was named "Best Small Library in America" by the Library Journal — was soon being picketed by Bible thumping protesters, including a woman who showed up several times to blow a shofar and call down God's wrath. People showed up at library board meetings to warn Glidden and the board were surely damned to hell, and some came armed, to suggest they might be willing to help hurry the process along.
Glidden got harassed too, because that's what America is all about these days:
Glidden said people have falsely accused her of “grooming children for pedophiles,” and her staff has started dining and shopping in neighboring counties to avoid conflicts. Critics of the library have called the censorship conflict a “spiritual battle for the hearts and minds of children,” on Facebook.
Glidden eventually developed a nervous tic and in mid-August announced her resignation; she'll stay on until September 10.
Oh, yes, we mentioned a bit of nice news in all this. CNN reported Monday that groups of townspeople of all ages have taken to making their own quiet protests in favor of the library, gathering outside on a nice shady section of lawn to sit and read together. Bonners Ferry resident Billie Jo Klaniecki (CNN, did you really have to call her "a spry 70-something"? Jebus!) said the library board needed to know the library is appreciated.
“They’ve come into our community with their standards and their agenda and they’re determined they’re going to force it on us,” says Klaniecki. “They carry guns to library board meetings and school board meetings. Carry guns! We don’t need that. This country doesn’t need that.”
CNN notes that none of the recall advocates would talk to reporters.
But former Bonners Ferry mayor and library supporter Darrell Kerby, who says he voted for Donald Trump and might again, said the would-be book banners are part of the recent far-Right migration into North Idaho, which was already plenty conservative:
“This isn’t about Trump,” he says. “This goes beyond any conservatism into almost Nazism, where they’re trying to force their own ideas and religious concepts on everybody else. That’s not America.”
Mr. Colson, one of the board of trustees facing recall, has also been a regular at the read-ins, and said he's hoping things will eventually settle down.
“There are a group of people that want to change this community and there’s a group of people that want it to stay the same,” says Colson. “I’m sort of a notorious optimist, I think that free choice and freedom win in the end.”
We certainly hope he's right.
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