Saturday, December 2, 2023

Right to Read Week: Librarians and bookstore owners discuss intellectual freedom

October 6, 2023
Photo by Madison Echlin | The State News

October 1-7 celebrates Right to Read Week in Michigan, a time dedicated to promoting intellectual freedom and advocating against book bans in schools and libraries across the state

Owner of Socialight Society Nyshell Lawrence said that at her bookstore, every week is Right to Read Week. 

“We feel that it's important to showcase these works," Lawrence said. "Oftentimes they are stories that need to be read, need to be really told, need to be discovered by people." 

Lawrence said she loves having a specific week to put these books that are shunned by some at the forefront of her bookstore.

 “It's great for our reading community, and it's great for others to be able to discover books that maybe they might not reach for at another time," Lawrence said

Interim Library Director of East Lansing Public Library Angelo Moreno said that the name change from ‘Banned Books Week’ to ‘Right to Read Week’ shifts the focus to the readers. 

“It's more about everybody's joy, pleasure in reading itself,” Moreno said. “One of the things that we here at the Library really care deeply about is connecting with readers and making sure that readers in this community have what they need to take seriously their vocation as readers.”

Executive Director of the Michigan Library Association Debbie Mikula said that there has been an increase in bans that target traditionally marginalized communities. 

“Our books that are currently being targeted are those written by and about traditionally marginalized people and experiences, including LGBTQ+ and Black writers and women,” Mikula said

“We’re fearful that even the threat of censorship creates that environment of fear and it leads to restrictions on access to information,” she said.  

According to PEN America, 874 different books have been banned in American schools in the 2022-2023 school year

The most commonly restricted titles is a tie with 15 bans across the country- Gender Queer: A Memior by Maia Kobabe and Flamer by Mike Curato. Both books discuss the topic of gender and sexual identity

“We really are seeing this coordinated and orchestrated attempt to remove books about racism, sexuality, gender and history,” Mikula said

She said that one of the most impactful ways to promote intellectual freedom is through attending local library and school board meetings

“We're hearing this small vocal minority at our library and school board meetings that are very loud,” Mikula said. “We really need to counter that and to amplify the positive nature of having access to these books in our public libraries.” 

Other ways to celebrate Right to Read Week, according to Mikula, is to lead or join a local group advocating against censorship, fight misinformation about the topic and support politicians that oppose book bans

“My choice is different than my neighbor's choice, and we have to protect that,” she said

Moreno said that at the East Lansing Public Library, they take their job of “getting books into people’s hands very seriously.” 

“Everybody has a right to read, which is an obvious statement," Moreno said. "But also, one of the things that's really important is that every book has its reader and every reader has their book."  

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