Washington Terrace man installs book-exchange box to challenge bans
WASHINGTON TERRACE — Tom Hamilton agrees a measure of discretion is merited in picking which books should sit on school library shelves.
He wouldn’t put the coming-of-age book “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” — which touches on drug use and teen sexuality, among other things — in an elementary school library, for instance. But when books are pulled just because they feature same-sex parents, say, that’s another thing altogether.
“That’s definitely breaching a line,” Hamilton said.
As such, late last month he installed a book-exchange box in the yard outside his Washington Terrace home that features books that have faced bans for varied reasons. It’s called “The Little Banned Book Library” and he purposefully timed its recent installation just ahead of Banned Books Week — this week, Oct. 1-7.
Among the titles inside — meant to be removed by passersby and read, free of charge — are “Maus II” by Art Spiegelman, “1984” by George Orwell, “The Witches” by Roald Dahl and “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank. “This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson was taken out and had not yet been returned, at least as of last week.
In Hamilton’s view, books have the power of making readers rethink their assumptions, of arousing sympathy for people and groups on the margins, thus they shouldn’t be prohibited. Public and school libraries, especially, should steer clear of pulling books, though he recognizes there should be leeway in deciding which books are accessible to younger readers.
“It’s definitely important to challenge yourself with reading like that from time to time,” he said.
Parents will sometimes prohibit their kids from reading certain books because they don’t want them to feel uneasy about the issues they stir, Hamilton went on. Creating such discomfort, though, “is the point of the books.”
As an ally to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex and asexual communities, he takes particular offense at banning of books that touch on LGBTQIA themes. He and his wife have LGBTQIA friends, he said, and his wife’s cousin is transgender.
In fact, one of his key aims in putting up the book box, he said, was countering those who would press for removal of certain books from library shelves to “push LGBTQ people under the rug, so to speak, or make them disappear.”
The roof of his book-exchange box — sanctioned by Little Free Library, a nonprofit group — features a rainbow of colors, which Hamilton said is meant to send a signal that his household is an LGBTQIA ally. A small “safe home” pride flag is also posted in his home’s front yard.
The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom documented challenges to 1,915 book titles at varied libraries in the first eight months of 2023. That’s up from the same period in 2022 and the highest number the organization has recorded.
“Most of the challenges were to books written by or about a person of color or a member of the LGBTQIA+ community,” the group said in a press release last month.
Similarly, the website for Banned Books Week — supported by a wide range of groups, including the American Library Association — says that of the 13 most-challenged books for 2022, seven were targeted in part because of LGBTQIA content.
The issue has reared its head in Utah. The state seemingly experienced a flurry of requests to pull books from school libraries during the 2022-2023 school year after passage in early 2022 of House Bill 374. The legislation targets the presence of books in school libraries with sexually explicit passages, and several school libraries in the state have seen a range of books pulled from their shelves due to the measure’s provisions.
Notably, a Davis School District parent even requested removal of the Bible — as retribution, seemingly, for other book removals — garnering headlines across the state and beyond. District officials ultimately determined the religious book could stay put, though the review of a challenge to the Book of Mormon, holy scripture to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has yet to be completed.
The topic has sparked heated debate in Utah and beyond, and Hamilton installed a camera to monitor activity outside his home, worried ne’er-do-wells might target his book-exchange box. He reports no issues, though, and said one of his next-door neighbors, at least, fully supports the endeavor.
“Books should remain available to people to challenge themselves,” he said.