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'Standing up against censorship': West Michigan libraries push back against book bans

Michigan ranks sixth in the nation for the most book bans. Despite this, West Michigan libraries are pushing back to keep books accessible.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A recent report from PEN America found there’s been an increase in books bans in schools. It says more than 1,600 book title were banned during the 2021-22 school year. Public libraries are also being targeted.

Book challenges and bans have happened right here in West Michigan.

Despite this trend, public libraries are pushing against censorship in support of intellectual freedom.

Inside Loutit District Library in Grand Haven, avid readers can always find what they’re looking for despite attempts to ban or challenge books and programs.

“The library follows the American Library Association's bill of rights that we do not ban or censor books, and it is our belief that the library should have something for everyone in it. And it is individual's rights to choose to read or not read what they would like,” said Katie Alphenaar, Head of Reference & Information at Loutit District Library.

Michigan ranks sixth in the nation for the most book bans.

Patmos Library in Jamestown Township was defunded over controversy of a selection of books.

“But again, all of the surveys have been surveys at the national level, there have been surveys from Michigan, and even local surveys that show that the majority of voters, the majority of parents are opposed to banning books,” said Kathy Lester, President of the American Association for School Librarians.

A fundraiser and large donation by romance author Nora Roberts rescued Patmos Library for at least one more year, but attempted prohibitions persist across the state.

However, there are groups of teachers, librarians, parents and students fighting back.

“I think that those challenges are scary for our kids. I think it's really important that we are having representation of all of our kids, and that they have access to all sorts of thoughts and ideas. And, you know, we are a learning institution. And that's what we should be providing for them,” said Elizabeth Gates, President of the Greenville Education Association.

Librarians say public libraries are pivotal institutions in a community.

“A lot of people contacted us to tell us how they felt more welcomed in the library and saw themselves represented in the collection that we had. And we're thankful that we were standing up against censorship and supporting intellectual freedom,” Alphenaar said.

Voters in Ottawa County will once again get to vote on the Patmos Library millage on the Nov. 8 ballot.

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