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For John Green, the Battle Over Access to Books has Gotten Personal

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For as long as he has been a published author, John Green has faced attempts to censor his books. Her first novel, “Looking for Alaska”, a coming-of-age story that contains references to drug use and sex, has been challenged in schools for at least 15 years, and is often listed among the American Library Association’s most banned books. Got on the list of books. , last year it received more than 50 the challenges in schools across the country.

But Greene said the recent discussion over whether his books are appropriate for teens seems more personal, and more like an outgrowth of a growing movement to try and restrict access to the books.

A public library in her home state of Indiana implemented a new policy earlier this year, requiring library staff to remove any books with explicit sexual content from the children’s and teen section and relegate them to the adult collection . The Hamilton East Public Library’s decision meant that more than 1,800 young adult books were transferred, among them such classics as Judy Bloom’s “Forever” and Laurie Helms Anderson’s “Speak”, as well as two of Greene’s novels, “Looking for Alaska”. and were involved. “the fault in Our Stars.”

“I love Indiana so much and it breaks my heart to see that kind of bigotry in a public library,” said Green, who lives in Indianapolis.

The mass relocation of YA titles to Hamilton East has come under intense public scrutiny as Greene’s beloved books were swept into purgatory. But this is not an isolated incident.

attempt to ban books have increased across the United States over the past two years, powered by conservative group And the books that lawmakers have targeted that they consider inappropriate are often titles that address race and LGBTQ issues. Recently, an increasing number of public libraries have responded to complaints by moving books out of the children’s section, or placing them in a restricted area where parental permission is required.

in Montgomery County, Texas, the commissioners voted in July for new library policies that prevent people under 18 from accessing books with “explicit” material, which also includes many LGBTQ-themed works. A library board in Campbell County, Wyo., passed a measure this summer requiring librarians to remove any books containing sexual material from children’s and teen sections, and removed The library director refused to transfer the books.

In Crawford County, Ark., the library system removed LGBTQ-themed children’s books and placed them in a separate age-restricted “social section,” a policy that continues challenged in a lawsuit, And after residents of Marion County, Mrs., complained about LGBTQ content in the popular YA graphic novel series “Heartstopper,” a Library Board agreed Moving it to the adult section, and reviewing all the books in the young adult section.

Librarians and free speech advocates say such practices, although not new, are on the rise and may be a form of censorship.

“I view this as censorship because it is removing access to the intended audience,” said Emily Knox, board chair of the National Coalition Against Censorship. “No one wants to be called a censor, so one way to do that is to hinder access.”

At a time when the controversy over books has divided communities, the debate over Greene’s novels is especially pressing. His blockbuster novel “The Fault in Our Stars”, the story of two cancer-stricken teenagers falling in love, has sold nearly 25 million copies, and has a special resonance in Indiana, where most of the novel takes place.

As a literary figure with a massive online following, Greene has now become a somewhat reluctant soldier in the ongoing cultural war over who decides which books are appropriate for young readers.

“It’s an escalation from far-right groups that want to control what kinds of information teens have access to,” Green said. “‘Looking for Alaska’ has been removed from dozens of school libraries in the past year alone, so public libraries are the next logical step.”

The controversy over young adult books at East Hamilton Library began in early 2022, when the library was challenged for 11 books that patrons deemed inappropriate, including teen non-fiction titles about sex education. After fierce public debate about whether such works belonged in the children’s section, the board enacted a new policy that would limit all books containing explicit references to sex to the adult section. In the spring, they added new restrictions, requiring library staff to review YA titles not only for sexual content but also for some profanity and criminal acts.

to the middle augustLibrary staff had reviewed over 3,500 young adult titles, and had moved over 1,000 books, prompting widespread complaints from community members who protested the removal.

Public outcry against the policy intensified after Green’s post last month. messages Social media criticized the policy as “ridiculous” and expressed outrage Letter to the Library Board.

Last ThursdayAfter weeks of pressure, the library board voted to suspend the policy and reevaluate. The library director and board chair said in a statement to The Times that books that have already been moved to the adult section will remain there during the policy pause, but will be returned to the young adult section pending a decision by the board. can be done.

while many residents joined last week’s library board meeting While criticizing the policy, some spoke in favor of pursuing books with explicit content. Julie Boyd, a speaker supporting eviction, brought a stack of books she said contained explicit material, and read a sex scene from the novel “I Am the Girl” by Courtney Summers. “I don’t want children to read it,” she said.

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the Office of Intellectual Freedom at the American Library Association, said transferring books in such a way that they are inaccessible to their intended readers may be a violation of the First Amendment and a breach of a librarian’s professional duty.

Caldwell-Stone said, “If you’re closing John Green’s books again because you don’t like their content, that could be an unconstitutional act.”

In the past, courts have ruled that such practices violate the First Amendment. In 2000, a judge ruled that the city of Wichita Falls, Texas, had violated residents’ right to information after the city implemented a library policy that led to the removal of two children’s books about LGBTQ characters. and placed in the adult section.

At present, the status of Greene’s books and hundreds of other titles transferred to the Hamilton East Public Library remains unresolved.

Green said he would never be addicted to his books, some of which depict teen romance and intimacy, which have been labeled as pornography. But hearing such allegations so close to home was particularly troubling.

“It’s always been tough for me,” he said. “But it’s definitely a little tougher when it’s in your hometown, and you’re conscious of the fact that you have to go grocery shopping with those people.” Have to wander around the shop.

Green, who has spoken and written about his struggles with anxiety, said he was reluctant to join because the controversy makes him “extra-anxious”, but felt compelled to do so because Librarians who were bearing the brunt of the criticism. Unable to speak for fear of losing his job.

She said, “I believe very strongly in freedom of expression and the right of teens to read, and I feel very strongly that other parents should have no say in what my kids get to read.” ” “As long as that fight continues, I feel obligated to lend my voice to it.”



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