Teens learn about their right to intellectual freedom at Iowa City Public Library

Victoria Fernandez, UI alum and teen librarian at the ICPL, organized an anti-book banning program for preteens and teens this Thursday at the ICPL. The children learned about the reasons for censorship, the repercussions of banning certain perspectives, and the means to protect their rights to knowledge.


Lillie Hawker

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

Vaishnavi Kolluru, Arts Reporter

Even during her college years, Victoria Fernandez had been an advocate for human rights, majoring in international relations with a specialty in social justice, eventually going on to work for the Red Cross. 

Fernandez, a University of Iowa alum and the current teen librarian at the Iowa City Public Library, hosted an anti-book banning event for teens on July 28.

“As a library, we’re responsible for reflecting the community, especially for children. Sometimes adults can seem apathetic,” Fernandez said. “We want to show youth that we have not just books but all these programs to connect them with issues they are passionate about. We want to show them we care.”

The program began with a scavenger hunt in the library for a list of books that included E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web,” Susan Kuklin’s “Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out,” and Jesse Andrews’ “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” among others. 

Because of the eclectic nature of the list, attendees were puzzled when Fernandez asked what all the books had in common. After a series of incorrect guesses, Fernandez revealed that all the books had been “challenged or banned repeatedly.” 

Exclamations of perplexity rung throughout the room. Fernandez then ran through the list of books and explained why they had been deemed offensive. She briefly broached upon the history of banned and challenged books, noting that such books were likely to have content regarded as seditious, heretic, or inappropriate. 

Fernandez also posed the question of why it is dangerous to ban books in the first place, prompting her audience to consider often-debated issues like climate change, or the shape of the earth. She also reinforced the importance of hearing diverse voices, using the example of Abraham Lincoln, who deliberately recruited people who thought differently from him. 

“If you have an idea and if you’re interested in the truth, the best way to get hold of that truth is to find somebody with the opposite perspective and figure things out,” Fernandez said. 

Fernandez ended the event with examples of children campaigning for their rights to read books shrouded in stigma, prohibited, or age-restricted. 

“Nobody should be allowed to deny you information,” Fernandez said. “This program is to show you the necessity and means for protecting your intellectual freedom.”

Bones Kalina, one of the participants at the event, said he learned a lot, and that the event was overall enjoyable. 

“Banning books, in my opinion, is stupid. Why would you do that? Some people want to read them,” Kalina said. “Taking those books away is taking their freedom away to read.” 

Aria Meyer-Fernandez, the organizer’s daughter, said that J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” — one of her favorite books — had been targeted for belittling those in authority.

“I understand that some people don’t like the book, but I think it should be on the shelf,” Meyer-Fernandez said.