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Utah teachers, librarians alarmed by calls to ban controversial books

Mark Richardson

(Utah News Connection) Utah teachers and school librarians are reacting with alarm to a growing problem of parents and other groups demanding books they find objectionable be removed from shelves.

A coalition of Utah educators, librarians and social advocates spoke out this week on recent calls for several volumes -- some of them literary classics -- to be censored because they contain controversial sexual or cultural references.

In response, the groups representing librarians and teachers have published an eBook highlighting libraries' role in defending the First Amendment.

Tricia Fenton, president of the Utah Educational Library Media Association, said the demands are growing louder and more threatening. 

"We support thoughtful conversations, we support following processes," Fenton explained. "What we can't support is recklessly going through and pulling books off of shelves indiscriminately because they are deemed offensive by certain members of our communities."

One group, Utah Parents United, told a Salt Lake City TV station they are calling for schools to "quit protecting pornography and materials harmful to minors." They cited a Utah law defining those terms.

Groups including Equality Utah, the Utah Pride Center and the NAACP joined librarians in a news conference this week calling for a halt to censorship.

Fenton pointed out some of the books are aimed at high school-age kids grappling with identity issues and struggling to fit in. 

"We really strive to have the same kinds of First Amendment freedoms available for our students," Fenton stressed. "Of them being able to read books that not only reflect themselves -- when they read the book, they should be able to see themselves in it -- but we also want to provide windows to other perspectives."

Fenton added the American Library Association reported a 60 percent increase so far this year in book challenges across the U.S. She noted some of them come with legal threats.

"They are also moving now for legal action against teacher librarians and teachers in general," Fenton reported. "They're looking for criminal negligence charges to be applied."

The librarians are encouraging parents to work with them and school officials to develop reasonable standards respecting both parents' rights and intellectual freedom.