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Hillsdale community sees mounting tension over potential library book bans

outside view of the Mac Ritchie Library Building for the Hillsdale Community Library, the building is made of red brick with faded green trim, there's a clock tower on the right
Courtesy
/
Hillsdale Community Library
No books are coming off the shelves, but there are conversation about changing the kinds of books acquired for the children's section.

Updated on June 7 at 4:08 p.m. ET

These past few weeks, the public library in Hillsdale, south of Jackson, has been embroiled in a controversy over potential book bans.

A library board member had wanted certain books related to political or LGBTQ+ themes taken out of the children’s section.

The demand caused a string of resignations from library officials and several heated community meetings.

WKAR's Sophia Saliby spoke to Isabel Lohman who covers education for Bridge Michigan and has reported on what’s been happening in Hillsdale.

Editor’s note: Since the recording of this segment, Lohman reports that Hillsdale Community Library Board President Scott Cress has also announced his resignation.

Interview Highlights

On where this issue started

A board member proposed a policy that he says would stop books from being purchased in the future, not take books off shelves. But the way he did it was he encouraged people to come to come to a library board meeting, and said that the library director had been filling the shelves with Critical Race Theory, LGBTQ topics and other topics. He wants, ultimately, the library to stop purchasing books that relate to those topics ... But critics say that this is an opportunity for the library to ban books, essentially, or to limit the information that students and young children have in their community.

On the trend of school boards and local libraries becoming the site of more controversy

Anyone who's paid attention to school board meetings this year and the past couple years will know that, you know, parents are really frustrated with some schools. One of the things they've been concerned about is if the books in the library are age-appropriate or align with their values, and those could be two very different things, right? You could have an age-appropriate book that isn't aligning with a specific family's values. But it seems to be sort of a trend in like this was happening with school boards, now it's happening at the library boards, and it's going to be very interesting to see where this goes.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: These past few weeks, the public library in Hillsdale, south of Jackson, has been embroiled in a controversy over potential book bans.

A library board member had wanted certain books related to political or LGBTQ themes taken out of the children’s section.

The demand caused a string of resignations from library officials and several heated community meetings.

Isabel Lohman covers education for Bridge Michigan and has reported on what’s been happening in Hillsdale. She joins me now. Thank you for being here.

Isabel Lohman: Thanks for having me.

Saliby: Can you explain where this issue all started?

Lohman: Library board meetings up until very recently have been a pretty calm affair. That all changed very recently when a board member proposed a policy that he says would stop books from being purchased in the future, not take books off shelves.

He claims that this isn't a political thing, that instead this is a way to help make sure that materials are age-appropriate. But critics say that this is an opportunity for the library to ban books, essentially, or to limit the information that students and young children have in their community.

But the way he did it was he encouraged people to come to come to a library board meeting, and said that the library director had been filling the shelves with Critical Race Theory, LGBTQ topics and other topics. He wants, ultimately, the library to stop purchasing books that relate to those topics.

He claims that this isn't a political thing, that instead this is a way to help make sure that materials are age-appropriate. But critics say that this is an opportunity for the library to ban books, essentially, or to limit the information that students and young children have in their community. So, as you can expect, there's a lot of controversy.

Saliby: Were there any specific books that stood out? Or was it just more of a general, we shouldn't even be touching these types of topics?

Lohman: There was two versions of the board member's proposal circulated. One version did include a Harry Potter title.

A different version did not include that, but it also included a link to a puzzle that was about the Women's March. And in there, there is an image of a woman holding up, I believe, a "My Body, My Choice" sign. And Joshua Paladino, the board member, says that's a "pro-choice" puzzle then.

Then another book was How to Fight Racism, which, you know, some people have said, "That's exactly what we should be doing. We should be allowing children to access a variety of titles and allow, you know, the children and their parents to make a decision on what they should be allowed to continue."

There's also sort of an argument about is this a slippery slope from both sides.

There's also sort of an argument about is this a slippery slope from both sides, you know. The people who want their children to have access to titles that involve LGBTQ+ characters, say like, "If you ban this, like what's next? And you know, our children need opportunities to learn about all sorts of people."

People who back Josh will say that, this is a community member's opinion. One of them said that, you know, "This is a slippery slope. Eventually, children will be able to access titles about pedophilia and necrophilia."

Saliby: Like you mentioned, no books are coming off the shelves at the library at this time, but there are plans to reevaluate some policies when it comes to acquisitions, especially for the children's section. What could change in those policies?

Lohman: It's a lot of questions, right now, honestly. So, board president Scott Cress told me that the board is going to form a subcommittee, and the subcommittee is going to look at all of the policies.

Editor’s note: Since the recording of this segment, Lohman reports that Hillsdale Community Library Board President Scott Cress has also announced his resignation.

So, not just how you acquire titles, but how you make changes to policies, how do you do all those sorts of things that people have come to know board meetings to have, but again, with the library now being the center focal point, there's a different level of scrutiny and processes that needs to go through.

They both say, as of right now, no books are coming off the shelf.

So, their next meeting is later this June, and then the board president expects that there might be some changes coming in July.

But both he and Joshua Paladino, the person who originally proposed this policy, they both say that this type of stuff is going to take time. And they both say, as of right now, no books are coming off the shelf.

Saliby: And one thing, I thought was interesting is that you had some librarians, you had some people on the board talk about resigning, and then it was kind of unclear whether they were actually resigning.

I guess why was there so much, I guess, reaction to this, that people are like, "I don't even want to be involved anymore?"

Lohman: The library director is resigning. Her last day is in June. She read her resignation letter out in late May.

The children's director had previously said she was resigning at a previous board meeting. And then when asked the question in late May, she said she wasn't sure. And when I talked to her after the meeting, she also said she wasn't sure.

There were a couple of times where the board, you know, had to stop because the community was yelling at them or they were yelling at each other.

She seemed, the way she described it was she was torn. She really loves the kids. She loves her job. She wants to be a resource for this community. But at the same time, she's faced backlash. She's faced just what seems like an immense amount of stress.

And if you were at that board meeting, you would realize there was some serious tension. There were a couple of times where the board, you know, had to stop because the community was yelling at them or they were yelling at each other. I mean, that board meeting was packed. There was over 60 people there. It was just clearly an example of so much tension.

Saliby: On that topic, your colleague Ron French reported on how these types of conversations about banning books or not acquiring certain books in the future are happening not just in Hillsdale but across the state in some public libraries. Why do you think this has become a trend?

One of the things they've been concerned about is if the books in the library are age-appropriate or align with their values, and those could be two very different things, right? You could have an age-appropriate book that isn't aligning with a specific family's values.

Lohman: It's hard to know exactly why, but anyone who's paid attention to school board meetings this year and the past couple years will know that, you know, parents are really frustrated with some schools.

One of the things they've been concerned about is if the books in the library are age-appropriate or align with their values, and those could be two very different things, right? You could have an age-appropriate book that isn't aligning with a specific family's values.

But it seems to be sort of a trend in like this was happening with school boards, now it's happening at the library boards, and it's going to be very interesting to see where this goes.

Saliby: Isabel Lohman is an education reporter for Bridge Michigan. Thank you for joining me.

Lohman: Thanks for having me.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Sophia Saliby is the local producer and host of All Things Considered, airing 4pm-7pm weekdays on 90.5 FM WKAR.
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