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Bill would stop New Mexico libraries from banning books


A bill in the state legislature proposes preventing public libraries from banning books based on political or religious views from what one of the bill’s sponsors calls “hate groups.”

HB 123  aims to prevent public libraries from receiving funding if they do not adopt and comply with the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, which includes a requirement that library materials not be removed based on “partisan or doctrinal disapproval” based the author’s race, nationality, gender identity, sexual orientation or political or religious views, the bill states.

“We've had some areas around the state where hate groups have wanted to override an already existing process of vetting the books that are in our public library and they wanted books removed based on a disagreement with the subject matter that is book banning,” bill co-sponsor Rep. Kathleen Cates, D-Rio Rancho, told NM Political Report. “This bill will require, or notify, public libraries that if they override their current processes, to ban books based solely on a hate group’s request, they will risk losing their state funding.”

The bill also requires public libraries to have a written policy prohibiting book bans. It also prevents political subdivisions from reducing a library or library system’s funding for adhering to the bill.

However, challenging library materials is still permitted.

“The provisions of Subsection A of this section are not intended to curtail the right of individuals to challenge library materials as part of an approved library collection development policy following established library materials challenge procedures,” the bill states.

“The New Mexico legislation responds to disturbing circumstances of censorship and an environment of suspicion — not because there is a problem that needs to be solved,” ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom Director Deborah Caldwell-Stone told NM Political Report in an email. “State legislatures have an increasing interest in legislation that bans book bans, and ALA sees that as a call to everyone to stand up against censorship and call it what it is, a threat to our children's education, to our civil liberties and individual freedoms and to our democracy.”  

The bill only applies to public libraries. Public school libraries are under the jurisdiction of the Public Education Department. Similar legislation would have to be introduced to prevent school libraries from banning or removing materials based on political or doctrinal disapproval of those materials, Cates said.

Alamogordo Public Library You Services Librarian Ami Jones was optimistic about the proposed legislation.

“HB 123 looks like it will provide an important protection for the citizens of New Mexico,” Jones told NM Political Report via email. “Libraries MUST remain an unbiased source of information for all citizens, regardless of their beliefs, situation or background.”

Jones began keeping a spreadsheet of banned and challenged materials when she started her job at the Alamogordo Public Library 20 years ago, she said.

“That list has exploded over the past couple years, and there are now over 2,700 titles on it. Happily, only a couple such cases happened in New Mexico!” Jones said.

Entries include Tomi DePaola’s Strega Nona which was listed for black magic and Alan Schwartz’ Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series which was listed for occultism and violence.

Many of the entries were banned or challenged due to depictions of racism, depicting a non-traditional family or for defining oral sex as in the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary challenge.

Jones is aware of one challenged book in Alamogordo Public Schools which was brought to her attention following an inquiry by NPR.

The book was Neil Gaiman’s 1996 novel, “Neverwhere.”

“We did not at that time have a copy in our collection, but quickly ended up with three copies, as everyone in town seemed to want to know what the fuss was about,” Jones said.

Book bans and challenges are not good publicity for authors, Jones said.

“(Book bans) can result in ‘soft censorship’, in which librarians afraid of being attacked do not order books that someone might object to, which creates a grave disservice to the patrons who want and need those books,” Jones said.

Beyond the book bans, parents have the right to determine what their children can read, Jones said.

“(Parents or guardians) do not have the right to determine what anyone else's child may or may not read. We encourage parents to share and discuss with their children both what they are reading and what the children are reading on a regular basis. Library staff are always happy to assist patrons with finding the materials that are just right for them,” Jones said.

NM Political Report is a non-profit newsroom that can be found at NMPoliticalReport.com.