Indianapolis Recorder cites Liberation Center organizer on book bans and public libraries

Stephen Lane speaks at a rally for defending the right to an abortion in early May 2022. Credit: Indianapolis Liberation Center.

by Liberation Center Staff

The state of and reality behind the “book wars”

LaTasha Boyd Jones‘ latest article for the Indianapolis Recorder cites Indianapolis Liberation Center organizer Stephen Lane on why book bans contradict the very purposes of public libraries. Jones’ recent contribution weaves together personal narrative, historiography, and critical analysis to examine the contemporary “book wars.”

While the U.S. state has a long history of interfering in the information available to the public, recent years have seen a surge in demands to censor content across the U.S. as Jones puts it:

“There is a book war. Books and libraries (public school and public) are under attack. Two years ago, in Ilano County, Texas, Seventeen titles that primarily dealt with race and identity themes, including Isabel Wilkerson’s ‘Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents’ and a teen title that called the Ku Klux Klan, a terrorist group, were removed from the shelves and digital access was suspended. When the Library Board did not agree with the book bans, the board was replaced with community members who agreed (usurping the board process), and the ban proceeded.”

Bringing these national battles to the home front, Jones turns to Lane:

“We cannot relegate these issues or concerns to Texas, Tennessee, or Vermont. Here, in Indiana, Fishers (Hamilton East Public Library) titles are being censored; juvenile and teen books are being shuttled out of their respective collections to adult collections. Public library board member Stephen Lane says, ‘The library should reflect the community it serves.'”

Lane’s statement is true and, to provide further evidence, it is not local communities demanding book bans.

Book bans are corporate-funded networks with few members

The recent wave of struggles to ban particular books and curricular content is unprecedented. The American Library Association reported 1,269 demands to ban books and materials from public, school, and classroom libraries in 2022, which was almost twice as high as the 729 attempts in 2021, and more than eight times higher than attempts in 2020, which numbered 156. Of the greatest book titles under attack recently are Toni Morrison’s classic, The Bluest Eye and Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer.

This, however, is not reflective of a broader right-wing shift in the U.S. population. The momentum to censor books is not reflective of broader society but is rather the result of astroturf conservative groups that united in a strategy to advance the agendas of their sponsors. For example, “No Left Turn in Education” presents itself as a grassroots movement prompted by a parent who noticed the public school materials her children brought home contained “historical revisionism, political correctness, and the outright rejection of values which have long been at the core of the American experience.”

However, both “No Left Turn” and “Moms for Liberty” are projects of “Parents Defending Education” (PDE). Nicki Nelly, PDE’s President, has for years made hundreds of thousands of dollars managing anti-“free speech” organizations financed by Koch Brothers and Bradley Network.

PDE’s website features a map titled “Indoctrination Attacks” that makes it appear as a nation-wide, grassroots campaign. However, as Maurice Cunningham reveals, in 2021 No Left Turn in Education and related groups had fewer than 100 members (with eight in Indiana).

The people are on our side; but the Tribble-dominated library board is not

The call to ban books that tell the truth about U.S. history and to outlaw “critical race theory” isn’t emerging from an organic uprising of parents, but a coordinated and well-funded attack to advance a right-wing agenda.

However, when the topic came up during last year’s public presentations by the two finalists for the position of Indianapolis Public Library CEO, the two candidates had very different approaches – or, more accurately, one had an approach.

The first, Gabriel Morley, didn’t address the topic at all, nor did he present any coherent plan in his presentation that went twice as long as it was supposed to.

The second, then-interim CEO, Nichelle M. Hayes, managed to present a well thought-out plan that addressed what she called the “freedom to read.” To those who would ask to ban books from the library, Hayes told the auditorium: “We have a plethora of books in our system, both physical and virtual, and if you don’t like a book, let me tell you a secret: You actually don’t have to read it.

Given its importance, the topic came up in the discussion period. Hayes reaffirmed her clear policy. Morley stumbled and evidenced support for censorship. As Chloe McGowan reported for the Indianapolis Recorder: “In response to a question about book banning, Morley said he’d like to see the library come up with a policy that outlines its core values and what it will and will not tolerate.” Morley then clarified this policy:

“Having that policy vetted by an attorney so we can make sure that we’re on good legal grounds and then trying to stand firm,” he said. “What we don’t want to do is engage in this back-and-forth with people because we’re never going to win that argument.”

Fight back in Indianapolis, Indiana, and the country

Despite Hayes’ qualifications, successfully serving as interim CEO, and her clear victory over Morley during those presentations–not to mention her wide-range of community support as demonstrated by a petition in support of her–the Board decided to hire Morley. Yet Morley knew he wasn’t welcome and declined the job.

We are still fighting for a truthful explanation about their decision to hire Morley over Hayes and their subsequent refusal to offer the position to Hayes. All they’ve given us is a web of contradictory lies. After declaring they would initiate a new national search, Tribble consolidated her power by giving Greg Hill the position without any interview process. Without strong leadership in our public library, the risk of caving to conservative pressures to ban books is a real concern.

That fight isn’t over. But it is bigger than Indianapolis.

Our ruling class constantly wages these culture wars in an effort to undermine our solidarity. In addition to book bans, Indiana politicians like Todd Rokita are also wasting our resources and hurting our community by waging their own anti-LGBTQ crusades. By creating disunity, politicians like Rokita and those behind these book bans hope to prevent us from fighting together to advance our collective material interests. We will not be fooled by these goons, and we will fight back!

If you want to help defend our community from these assaults by the ruling class, consider joining the Indianapolis Liberation Center!