Librarians Fight Back

by Jennie Rose Halperin

Screenshot from a news clip of a public hearing on book banning in Virginia: signs read "Books Not Bonfires" and "Give Back The Books!"
Screenshot: YouTube

Lisa Varga is a firebrand in support of libraries and First Amendment rights. She is the Executive Director of the Virginia Library Association, and was recently named Library Journal’s 2024 “Librarian of the Year.” We met through the growing coalition of advocates coming together against the tide of library censorship and First Amendment violations that is rapidly rising around the country. 

Due in large part to her organizing, Virginia librarians and taxpayers defeated eleven pro-censorship bills in public hearings last year. The conflict is grinding, and incessant: in Rockingham County, for example, 57 books were removed from school libraries in January, including Slaughterhouse-Five, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Kite Runner, and The Bluest Eye. Four months and two new hearings later, just seven of the banned books have been restored.

Lisa and I talked about the new circus of the public hearing, what these bans are really about, and how to stop them.

This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

What's going on with book bans right now? 

While traditionally we've seen a lot of objections to books, objections are creeping into all kinds of other areas of library services like displays, database access, or even the color of the curtains. The moment you stop an argument in place about a library issue, another has popped up. 

This began in full force around 2021. Chaos manufacturers were against certain titles in schools, and began creating social media campaigns against a few books, whether they were in a public library or a school library. We saw flare-ups in various places, usually centered around schools, but occasionally being pulled into the sphere of public libraries as well. 

It’s a paywall, but a small one

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