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Library supports ask public to push back at censorship

LANSING — Shelves laden with row upon row of books fill public libraries with stories of history, fantasy and anything in between.

Whether they are new books with gleaming spines or used ones creased from being held open for hours, the stories within remain the same.

Now the Michigan Library Association is pushing an initiative it calls MI Right to Read. It’s intended to educate the public and oppose legislation that may infringe on First Amendment rights to access and intellectual freedom amid a surge in censorship.

Though censorship is nothing new, according to Deborah Mikula, the association’s executive director, the quantity of attacks has grown dramatically.

“It’s unprecedented — the volume of attempted censorship and the intensity of the conversations right now at our school boards and library boards,” she said.

Mikula said that since about 2021, the number of books challenged in the state has multiplied from hundreds to thousands. Most challenged books are by LGBTQ+ authors or have race-related or gender-related content.

The most challenged book title of 2022 was “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe.

That book was challenged for its LGBTQ+ content, according to the American Library Association.

The association marks October as Library Appreciation Month, which includes a Right to Read Week and highlights how libraries serve their communities.

In addition, the American Library Association promotes a Banned Book Week every October, which it says celebrates the freedom to read and brings communities together to support their libraries.

In one Michigan incident last year, residents in Jamestown Township in Ottawa County defeated a millage that would appropriate the majority of their public library’s budget after the library refused to take LGBTQ+-related books off the shelves.

The millage will be on the ballot for the third time this November.

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