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Massachusetts librarians talk book bans at annual convention on Cape Cod

"All Boys Aren't Blue" by George M. Johnson is on the top 10 list of banned books in 2022  from the American Libraries Association.
Elizabeth Román
"All Boys Aren't Blue" by George M. Johnson is on the top 10 list of banned books in 2021 from the American Libraries Association.

This year's most targeted novels and non-fiction listings are by or about Black or LGBTQ persons, according to the American Library Association. Topping the list, Gender Queer: A Memoir," by Maia Kobabe.

As states other than Massachusetts continue to add to that list of books banned from schools and public libraries, the topic is among the conversation at the Massachusetts Library Association annual conference Monday and Tuesday on Cape Cod.

Misha Storm, the head librarian in Northfield, Mass., is there. She said book bans in other states are on everyone's mind and in the last few years, librarians everywhere are reporting a surge of book challenges from patrons walking in, or through email campaigns.

"The American Library Association is calling for people to report these things," Storm said, "the numbers seem larger but I also think they're genuinely growing. I'm sure I will have an incident at some point."

Statewide, libraries are sharing policies for how to deal with these incidents, something Storm said they will talk about at the conference this week.

If a small library in western Massachusetts has patrons challenging them and doesn't know how to respond Storm, who is also president of the Western Mass Library Advocates, said her group can help them come up with policies and connect librarians to legislators.

Northfield's Dickinson Library is one of the CW MARS library consortium, with 100 member libraries primarily located in Central and Western Massachusetts. Together, they advocate for library funding but they also share books, hard copy and electronic versions.

When a title lands on the banned book list, Storm said she makes sure to buy it - because of the ban.

"Our system is interconnected," Storm said. "If one small town doesn't have a book, we're connected to almost a hundred other libraries that a patron can get that book from. And that goes both ways," Storm said.

Over the past couple of years, the titles that come up as banned naturally get more requests Storm said. "People are curious, they want to read them — and so that's a demand that I'm happy to meet."

Every year, the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association compiles a list of the "Top Ten Most Challenged Books." The lists are based on "information from media stories and voluntary challenge reports sent to OIF from communities across the United States," according to LibGuides.

Jill Kaufman has been a reporter and host at NEPM since 2005. Before that she spent 10 years at WBUR in Boston, producing "The Connection" with Christopher Lydon and on "Morning Edition" reporting and hosting. She's also hosted NHPR's daily talk show "The Exhange" and was an editor at PRX's "The World."