Banned Book Backlash: How Wisconsin Libraries Are Fighting to Keep All Books on Shelves

By Salina Heller

September 28, 2023

In Altoona, staff members at the public library are working to set up a display for Banned Book Week.

“It’s kind of sad we even have a ‘Banned Book Week’ in this country,” Library Associate Kim Butnick told UpNorthNews. “It’s important to remember that every book isn’t for everyone. And that’s okay—just don’t tell others what they can or can’t read.”

According to the American Library Association (ALA), the organization behind Banned Book Week, calls to ban books have reached a record high. More than 1,250 books were challenged in 2022. That’s the highest number of attempted bans since the association started tracking censorship twenty years ago.

In Wisconsin, the ALA has logged 26 attempts to ban books, with 137 different titles challenged. The most frequently challenged book? Flamer’ by Mike Curato, a novel about a teenage boy’s inner struggles and questions about sexuality.

However, the ALA says their numbers are likely incomplete, as they estimate anywhere from 82% to 97% of all book challenges go unreported.

Banned Book Backlash: How Wisconsin Libraries Are Fighting to Keep All Books on Shelves

At the Altoona Public Library, Library Associate Kim Butnick said, “The saddest part about the idea of censoring is most people who are against certain books haven’t even read them.” Photo by UpNorthNews

While the Altoona Public Library hasn’t experienced any book challenges, its librarians are prepared to fight to keep every book on their shelves–after all, that’s the purpose of public libraries.

“The job of the library is to provide material for people to read, not dictate what those materials are,” Butnick explained.
However, Altoona and surrounding communities haven’t been completely controversy-free. Last year, after receiving emails from a handful of “concerned” parents in his Assembly district, Republican Rep. Jesse James surveyed schools as to the availability of a list of books to students.

He co-sponsored a billdesigned to protect children from unwanted harmful content that parents don’t want them viewing.”

The bill failed to pass the Committee on Human Services, Children and Families.

Rep. Scott Allen (R-Waukesha) and Sen. Andre Jacque (R-DePere) also aimed to remove several books from schools statewide. As a result of all efforts, seven books were removed in a couple of school districts.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, most of the books had LGBTQ plotlines, discussed gender identity, and/or featured LGBTQ characters. Some also dealt with topics like ethnic identity, racism, discrimination, and anti-racist activism.

The seven include:

Embrace by Jessica Shirvington
Perfect by Ellen Hopkins
TTYL and The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle
Queer: The Ultimate LGBTQ Guide by Kathy Belge and Marke Biesche
Traffick: The Sequel To Tricks by Ellen Hopkins

This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson

In total, six Wisconsin school districts banned 29 books during the 2021-2022 school year.

What’s Next?

Republican lawmakers are proposing to remove certain books from schools and punish school staff who allow students to access materials they consider “inappropriate.” A co-sponsorship memo entitled “Protect Childhood Innocence” authored by Rep. Scott Allen (R-Waukesha) and Sen. Andre Jacque (R-DePere) started circulating in May. You can learn more about it here.

MORE: 7 Banned Books You Should Read (& Re-Read)

What’s Next?

Author

  • Salina Heller

    A former 15-year veteran of reporting local news for western Wisconsin TV and radio stations, Salina Heller also volunteers in community theater, helps organize the Chippewa Valley Air Show, and is kept busy by her daughter’s elementary school PTA meetings. She is a UW-Eau Claire alum.

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