Forsyth Library showcases banned books

Tiger Media Network

The Forsyth Library is home to several resources – from equipment, to computer stations, to university archives – but last week, faculty put a particular emphasis on its undesirables.  On Wednesday, organizations throughout Hays celebrated the 43rd annual Banned Books Week, an event raising awareness for widely challenged books.  This year, organizers brought particular attention to the high stakes across America.

“This is a problem and keeps being a problem, and is growing exponentially as a problem. I think it’s important to bring it to the students here,” library engagement specialist Anna Towns said.

Blind Date with a Banned Book

Towns’ booth at Tomanek Plaza promoted banned book buttons and the “blind date with a banned book” challenge, encouraging passersby to check out books despite knowing nothing beyond the reason they’re banned.  The books were wrapped up like presents, as if to imply they’re too controversial for public sight.

“I think that’s your chance to get somebody else’s perspective, so if it is far outside your norm, I think that’s the best way to engage with a banned book,” she said.

Towns only recently began her time at Fort Hays State University.  Her background is in Cultural Geography, but after working with interlibrary loans and a stint at the Hays Public Library, she says she’s excited to promote banned books in a new setting.

“This is usually an issue for school libraries or public libraries moreso, but publicly funded universities are facing issues because these laws that they’re passing geared towards K-12 are having far-reaching effects,” she said.

Anna Towns preparing books

Within Forsyth itself, The American Democracy Project and Sigma Tau Delta co-hosted a Times Talk overviewing recent legislation to ban books.  According to speaker Isaiah Russell, 2022 saw a 70 percent increase in banned book requests.  Speaker Harrison Jenkins noted Floridian No Left Turn in Education founder Bruce Friedman is particularly prolific – challenging over 3,600 books with critical race theory and LGBT themes in 2022 alone.

“In all of these, he has simply listed ‘Protect children’ as his interest in filing the complaint,” Jenkins said.

The rise in anti-LGBT book bans coincides with the overall rise in anti-LGBT legislation in America – a movement that affects Kansans in the form of recent laws like HB 2238 and SB 180.  Mae Moore, an outreach coordinator at the Hays Public Library, claims to have heard similar sentiments.

“Last year, we had a gentleman who came into the children’s department with his younger kids, and it was after the display had been taken down. […] He said ‘You’re supposed to have a display with all this queer stuff; I don’t want my kids around that.’  I looked at him and I said ‘Oh, you’re talking about the banned books display, and yes, it had some of those, but that display has been taken down.’ and he said ‘Well, I don’t think it’s right that you should be doing that,'” she said.

During the event, Moore was at Tomanek Plaza administering the bookmobile’s bi-weekly visit.  The bookmobile also showcased several banned books.  An accompanying infographic from the American Library Association claimed that six of the top seven most challenged books in 2022 were due to LGBTQ+ content.

Banned books display in the Bookmobile

“Everyone has their opinion.  Everybody deserves the right to be seen, to be heard, to be understood, and to ban a book takes away what somebody might think of as a good book.  If you don’t agree with it, then find something else,” Moore said.

Upon the event’s conclusion, Towns said 95 people stopped by the Banned Books Buttons booth, 14 people checked out the Bookmobile, and 18 people attended the Times Talk.  While the event boasted a significant turnout, she said she’s not likely to host everything simultaneously next year.

“Not sure that was the best plan, and we might change that going forward, but it was nice to be working with a bunch of different groups, but that does take a lot of logistics,” she said.