Johnson County librarians share opposition to book banning

Johnson Country Librarians share their thoughts on the book-banning conversation happening in Iowa.


Lillie Hawker

The Iowa City Public Library is seen on Sunday, March 20, 2022.

Anaka Sanders, Arts Reporter

Current state-wide conversations about book banning in Iowa have sparked local ones at the Coralville and Iowa City Public Libraries. Johnson County librarians reiterated the importance of staying true to the First Amendment amid political conversation.

Anne Mangano, the collection services coordinator at the Iowa City Public Library, spends her days strategically choosing materials to be purchased for the development of the library’s collection of books.

She said the Iowa City Public Library tries to bring in books that offer a variety of different viewpoints on a variety of different subjects.

“Oftentimes, when books are being challenged or banned, they tend to be from a marginalized community who have not really had a voice in our society for a long time and they deserve a seat at the table, too,” Mangano said.

The Library Board wrote an outward letter in support of intellectual freedom a few weeks ago in response to the discussion of banning books. Internally, library staff are trained on how to talk about books with patrons if the patron has an issue with a book on their shelves.

The Iowa City Public Library’s collection development policy is to not remove books if only a specific group or single person has an objection to it.

Coralville Public Library Director Alison Galstad said the library’s Board of Trustees recently reviewed its selection policy, reaffirming it in conjunction with the Freedom to Read Statement and the Library Bill of Rights put out by the American Library Association.

Galstad said she believes providing unfettered access to library materials is one of the fundamental tenets of a librarian’s profession.

“We go by the pennant to provide access to all types of materials, all viewpoints, opinions, and information through different lenses from different perspectives,” Galstad said. “Access to that information, we feel, is something guaranteed in the First Amendment. The act of censorship runs completely contrary to that.”

According to a recent poll from the American Library Association, seven out of 10 voters oppose efforts to remove books from public libraries.

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“When we talk to people locally, they have great respect for their library, for the librarians, the training we’ve gone through, the process that we have in place to ensure that we have fair and balanced collections,” Mangano said in response to the poll. “Sometimes that is clouded by the voices that are the loudest.”

Galstad said books about marginalized populations are published more frequently than ever before because publishers are expanding who they publish, opening the doors for many more diverse books.

Iowa City is a UNESCO City of Literature, a nonprofit organization that promotes the love of literature by providing opportunities to inspire the community. Executive Director John Kenyon said if libraries or schools decided to ban books, then he feels that would go against everything the U.S. is supposed to stand for.

“The gains that we have made in terms of equity and inclusion, people who are against those concepts will start clawing them back,” Kenyon said. “It’s a dangerous path to start down.”

Books like the New York Times 2018 best-seller The Hate You Give, which is about a young Black girl’s wrongful experience with a police officer, stand out to Kenyon the most. He said that as a middle-aged white man living in Iowa, he’s had a very different experience than the characters in the book.

Ultimately, reading stories from different people can help readers gain an understanding and knowledge of what’s happening in the rest of the world. Librarians make it clear that the effect of banning books would be felt not just across Iowa, but the entire U.S.

“It would be heartbreaking for me, but I think for the country, we’re giving up rights that are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution,” Mangano said.