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Book Bans will Target Marginalized Readers, Librarians Say

Williamson Strong
School librarians protest a law that creates political committee to determine which books in school libraries are considered "obscene." A school board in McMinn County recently banned a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about the Holocaust. Such bans could now be statewide.

After Tennessee legislators passed a bill that would give a group of political appointees the final word in what books are available in K-12 libraries, state librarians predict a pattern of censorship to come.

The Tennessee Association of School Librarians opposes the legislation now awaiting Gov. Bill Lee's signature.

Former past TASL president Lindsey Kimery says lawmakers made spurious claims to drum up support for the bill.

Its house sponsor, Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station), said school libraries in nearly every county contained "obscene" and "pornographic" material. He said lawmakers had gathered a list of more than 70 books that were not age appropriate. That list has not been provided to the media.

Kimery says school librarians are highly trained to determine which books are right for certain ages and grade levels. Because middle schools bridge the gap between children and adolescents, some school libraries do contain books that parents of younger children might find objectionable, but parents of older children would allow. In those cases, librarians try to guide children to the appropriate books.

Kimery and other librarians fear that a Republican-appointed commission with the authority to ban books would likely focus on titles written by or about marginalized communities, such as racial minorities or students who identify as LGBTQ.

She and other librarians were also disturbed when Rep. Sexton appeared to advocate book burning as an appropriate response to literature deemed offensive by the state.

Reporting from the gates of Graceland to the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, Christopher's favorite haunt is the intersection of history and cultural change. He is WKNO's News Director and Senior Producer at the University of Memphis' Institute for Public Service Reporting. Join his conversations about the Memphis arts scene on the WKNO Culture Desk Facebook page.