Amid a sharp nationwide rise in the number of books facing library or school bans, Douglas County Libraries is spotlighting challenged media for National Banned Books Week.
Banned Books Week, which runs from Sept. 18-24, celebrates free and open access to information by highlighting the harms of censorship and books that are frequent targets of bans. So far this year, the American Libraries Association reports 681 challenges to books, which almost reaches the 2021 total of 729 book challenges.
Bucking the trend, Douglas County Libraries has not seen a large number of challenges to books on its shelves, according to Douglas County Libraries Executive Director Bob Pasicznyuk. He said he has handled only a single complaint so far this year and has never reached the point of removing materials from the library due to a challenge in his eight-year tenure.
Most complaints are handled by hearing patrons’ concerns, but there’s often not much the libraries can do in response, Pasicznyuk said. He noted that libraries being taxpayer-supported essentially means they operate as an arm of the government, so removing access to material would ask censorship.
“We stock what people have in demand, so if a book is in demand by citizens, for another citizen to ask for it to be removed so that they can’t use it is where (the complaint) usually falls apart,” he said “For us the definition of censorship is not people making decisions for themselves… but when they are trying to make a choice for their neighbor.”
Pasicznyuk said library policies do allow for parents and guardians to have slightly more control over what materials their children can check out. For parents of children age 14 or younger, there is an option to limit library card use to media in the youth category.
“Some folks may say a particular book is not safe for children or it’s risky for a child to have that book in their hands. Our policies place those decisions squarely in parents’ hands,” Pasicznyuk said.
Many of the top 10 most challenged books for 2021 were young adult novels, mainly with LGBTQ themes or characters, or discussions of racism.
Pasicnyuk said he’s received comments and concerns about a wide range of books in the libraries, such as media that depicts violence, includes anti-vaccine perspectives, has descriptions of sex or sexuality, or reflects anti-law enforcement ideas.
Pasicnyuk said book challenges often reflect civic tensions or contemporary controversies.
“If you look over a 10-year period of the books that people object to you would see almost everything in there, including a lot of classics,” he said. “It’s almost a mirror of societal pressures of the time.”
When it comes to stocking library shelves, Pasicznyuk said the library orders books and media based on what’s popular, such as bestsellers, classics or trends, as well as ordering specific materials for patron requests. DCL also partners with other Front Range libraries and universities to share media across the region.
“We look at the trends from the previous year and dissect what people are looking for and that governs our purchasing, so it’s a very market-driven approach,” Pasicnyuk said. “We keep some money aside for requests and I would say 75% of the time we just buy it and maybe 25% of the time we have other sources to get a book from anywhere in the Front Range.”
Currently, DCL offers every single book on 2021’s top 10 most challenged list, although some are already checked out or have hold lists.