A children’s book was mistakenly put on a list of potentially “sexually explicit” books to be moved from the children’s section of a group of libraries because the author’s last name is Gay, news outlets have said.
Read Me A Story, Stella, by award-winning Canadian author Marie-Louise Gay, is, in fact, a picture book telling the story of a brother and sister who read books together and build a doghouse.
But, despite its innocent subject matter, it was placed on the list of “sexually explicit” books by Huntsville-Madison County Public Library (HCPL) in the US state of Alabama.
The book would have been removed from the children’s section of the library system, but employees caught the error before it was taken off shelves.
The move would have been part of a growing trend in the US, according to campaigners.
The American Library Association (ALA) documented 1,269 demands to censor library books and resources in 2022 – the highest number of attempted book bans since the ALA began compiling data about censorship in US libraries more than 20 years ago.
Some 48% of the “challenges”, as the ALA calls attempts to get a book removed from being on display, took place in public libraries and 41% in school libraries.
The ALA says the most common reason to ‘challenge’ a book is to protect others, frequently children, from difficult ideas and information, with “sexually explicit” content, “offensive language” or material being “unsuited to any age group” being frequently cited justifications.
In some cases, even The Bible has been banned.
But the practice is controversial, with the ALA saying it opposes censorship and documents ‘challenges’ in order to raise awareness as part of an effort to ensure free access to information.
HCPL executive director Cindy Hewitt told US news outlet AL.com Read Me A Story, Stella was wrongly put on the list of 233 titles that it was restricting because of the keyword “gay.”
Ms Hewitt said: “Obviously, we’re not going to touch that book for any reason.
“We wanted to be proactive and allow our library staff to look at our collection and make decisions about moving material to an older age group and not have someone from outside dictating that for us,” she said, calling it a “miscommunication problem”.
HCPL’s list has been criticised for targeting the LGBTQ community, AL.com said.
Alyx Kim-Yohn, circulation manager at the Madison branch of the library, said it was “cosmically ironic” that the situation escalated during Banned Books Week, which took place between 1 and 8 October.
“The decision had been made,” she said. “There was no debate. There’s no conversation. This is what was happening.
“Why are we just unilaterally moving all of this before anyone’s even complained about these books yet?”
Ms Hewitt said she didn’t know how many books librarians moved and returned.
Community members with the group Read Freely Alabama, which is against the book ‘challenges’, visited several branches and compiled a list of 40 books moved into the adult section from various branches in Madison County.
Ms Gay’s publicist, Kirsten Brassard, of Groundwood Books, told AL.com her client’s book, which was first published in 2013, has never previously been “mistakenly censored”.
“Although it is obviously laughable that our picture book shows up on their list of censored books simply because the author’s last name is Gay, the ridiculousness of that fact should not detract from the seriousness of the situation.”
Banned Books Week “celebrates the freedom to read and spotlights current and historical attempts to censor books in libraries and schools”, the American Library Association said on its website.