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The national surge to ban books has hooks in North Dakota

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Ondřej Pros / Getty Images
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A new list by the free speech advocate group “PEN America” shows how requests for book bans spiked as 2023 ended.

According to the study, the top state to enact book bans last year was Florida. The state has between 5,001 and 6,000 titles that have been banned from libraries. Both Minnesota and South Dakota have 1 to 10 titles banned, while Montana has zero books banned.

North Dakota led the region with 11 to 100 bans on record.

“It's something where, like the library community in general, needs to kind of amp up our policies and make sure that we're proactive instead of being reactive like we were this last go-around because we just didn't expect it. And part of that does come down to, oh, it can't happen here. You know, “this only happens in the big areas. North Dakota's fine,” and then we found out that it's not the case.”

Tammy Kruger is acting president of the North Dakota Library Association. She says at the base level, she can understand where concerns come from when it comes to challenging a book on the library shelves.

“The idea behind it is to "protect minors". You cannot see my air quotes, but they're up. And so people, I don't think, necessarily have bad intentions when they challenge books. I think it's more of a concern of, okay, is this appropriate for my minor child?”

Kruger says there's also a strong counterpoint that can be made.

“The world I grew up in, as someone who's in her mid-30s, is different from the world my 14-year-old niece is growing up in. And I think that we need to be really considerate of that. Books are being made, especially for young adults and teens, are being made that reflect kind of their experiences a lot more. And some of that, some of those topics are, they're rougher topics.”

Kruger says as guardians, we're able to limit what our children can read, watch on TV, or even regulate if a child will be on social media.

“The big issue with the bans is that they are taking that right from the home into the entire community.”

Kruger says the last legislative session proved to be a learning point for librarians.

She says they're now advising those within the industry to strengthen their book review policies and build support among the community.

“I was talking to the district librarian at Williston Schools, and I know this last session, public libraries got hit harder than school libraries did. School libraries are going to have it coming, I can tell you that. I'm hoping we're going to get ready for them. But she mentioned that they had 20-some books that were challenged in the fall of 2022. So this is even before legislation hit. And the reason why they're able to keep so many is because her administration stuck to the policies, were very, very supportive of the right to read, which is really what it comes down to.”