5 Reasons Why Libraries Are the Greatest

Today is the last day of National Library Week. I’ve been working in libraries for nearly 18 years, and before that, I was (and still am!) a frequent patron. Libraries have always been important to me, so today, I’m sharing five reasons why I love them.

People studying in a large library
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Libraries Provide Shelter

Libraries are one of the few public spaces where a person can spend several hours indoors without spending any money. This shelter is invaluable for unhoused people, especially in extreme weather, because libraries offer air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter. Housed patrons might need the library when their A/C quits or they can’t afford their heating bill. When we think about libraries, we often think about the books and other items they circulate, but the building is vital for much more than just holding the collection.

A man sitting and reading a book in a library aisle
Photo by Dollar Gill on Unsplash

Libraries Provide Equity

If you make $20,000 a year, you can visit a library and check out as much as they let you. You can do the same thing if you make $120,000 a year. The library has something to offer you regardless of your income, beliefs, or interests. For those who are physically unable to visit the library in person, you can download books, audiobooks, and other forms of media online. One of my local libraries has been working on expanding its world language section so patrons who don’t speak English can still come to the library and leave with a book in their native tongue. Many organizations are becoming fine-free so more patrons have access to materials. Libraries should be for everyone and provide equitable opportunities for people to explore and learn.

A little boy stands next to a woman who's reading to him
Photo by Adam Winger on Unsplash

Libraries Have Something for All Ages

Another reason I love libraries is that they’re intergenerational. Babies and toddlers are welcome at my local branch’s Baby Lapsit Storytime, while retirees can attend midday book clubs or volunteer. There are programs for kids, teens, and young adults. Specialty programs are often offered to homeschoolers, gardeners, gamers, bakers, and writers. The public library where I worked for several years hosted chess tournaments, LEGO play nights, free tax help, and yoga classes. Whether a person is just learning to read or has been reading for decades, libraries offer programs and materials for people in every phase of life.

Libraries Provide More than Books

Libraries would still be amazing if they only stocked books, but modern libraries offer much more. In addition to DVDs and magazines, my local library districts allow people to check out:

  • Guitars
  • Telescopes
  • Podcast equipment
  • Museum and park passes
  • Book club kits
  • Preschool learning kits
  • Instant Pots
  • Blood pressure kits
  • Tools to digitize photos, cassette tapes, and VHS tapes
  • Blocks
  • Video and digital cameras
  • TVs
  • Sewing machines
  • Hotspots
  • Games

I’ve heard of other libraries checking out prom dresses, interview clothing, and cake pans. My university library has support dogs come visit during finals week for stressed students. Isn’t that incredible? I’ve loved watching libraries evolve and am excited to see what they’ll offer next.

A woman looks down at the book she's reading
Photo by Gift Habeshaw on Unsplash

Libraries Provide Books, Too

Yes, libraries still have books. The books are why I go to libraries as often as I do (that, and to earn my paychecks). I’ve discovered countless books through the years, thanks to public libraries. I still get excited to walk inside with my tote bag where I’ll place anything that looks interesting, the same thing I did as a little kid. If a person wants a classic novel, the library will have it. If you want a book that’s out of print, a librarian can use the magical powers of the interlibrary loan system to find a copy. From board books to the latest bestseller, libraries have kept communities informed, entertained, and well-read for as long as they’ve been around. I couldn’t be more grateful for the books I’ve found on library shelves.

A thank you card sits next to a pen
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

It’s Your Turn to Share

Because of book bans and threats against library staff happening in the United States right now, libraries and their employees need your support more than ever. National Library Week is coming to a close, but please consider sharing some library love over the next few days. Write a note to your favorite library staffer. If you’re a parent, let your child’s principal know how much you appreciate the school library and what it offers your kids. Share this post and include reasons why you love libraries. Tag your local libraries on social media and tell your followers why they’re so great. There are many ways to express your appreciation for libraries, so pick one and give library workers the boost they need right now.

I’m off to finish that library eBook that expires in two days.

Poetry Speaks: On “Wild Geese” and Perfectionism

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

—Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”

I’m a perfectionist when it comes to being an artist. I don’t mention this with pride, as if I’m in a job interview where I say my biggest weakness is working too hard. Perfectionism isn’t something to brag about because it stifles. It kills good ideas and crushes creativity. More often than not, when it comes to writing, I stop before I begin, thinking no words will be good enough, wise enough, or worth remembering. And maybe they won’t be, but not trying at all would be worse than a lousy poem or a boring essay. You can learn from creative failures but can’t learn if you don’t try. I know those things are true, but I don’t always believe them.

Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets. She writes about ordinary things in extraordinary ways, and I long to possess a fraction of her gift. I’d read the poem above multiple times, but there was one reading in particular when the words jumped off the page, took my hand, and shouted, “Pay attention to us this time.” I need to pay attention to them again, and maybe you do too.

You do not have to be good.

Most of the time, everything in me wants to scream in response, “Yes, I really do.” However, I find the older I get, the less I care about what things look like and the more I care about how things feel.

You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

My perfectionism wants to say, “But the knee-walking in the desert thing? That seems fair. I’ll do that.” Perfectionism means I ignore all the grace I’ve received and instead punish myself for not being enough. From all my years as a church-goer, I know that to repent means turning from something and going in another direction. Repentance often has a religious meaning, but wouldn’t it be powerful to take the word seriously regarding how we treat ourselves and our creativity?

You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Nothing feels soft about my body when I listen to the voice of self-doubt. I carry stress in my neck and shoulders, and when I’m tense, those muscles tighten uncomfortably. My body doesn’t feel soft then because I’m on guard. We carry so much in our bodies and place unreasonable expectations upon them. Yet, there is such joy in relaxing into myself and feeling pride and satisfaction that I’ve done my best. Creativity isn’t just a mental thing. When I make something I love, I feel it in my body. Instead of my shoulders tensing up, I feel light and undefeated.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.

Perfectionism can be selfish because it directs my thoughts inward. All I think about is what I’m doing, what I’m making, what feel, or what people think about me. A certain kind of despair results from self-isolation, but Oliver reminds us here that we’re not isolated at all. We’re all carrying some baggage, yet life goes on. It’s not just about me, but about us.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.

I’m not an outdoorsy person, but I love the ocean. Its vastness captivates me each time I see it. The sea inspires awe. Sometimes I feel a similar sense of wonder when I encounter good art. Like the ocean, art can stop me in my tracks and remind me how powerful beauty can be.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” Perfectionism is worry. It’s unsettledness that causes me to doubt my gifts, abilities, and calling. Yet, we can learn something from the birds in the air that do precisely what they’re supposed to do. There’s beauty in witnessing someone be exactly who they were created to be.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

A couple of months ago, I heard the writer Jess Walter say that he approaches writing like play. That was a game-changer for me. Perfectionism doesn’t like play, but creativity thrives from it. I might not ever achieve every writing goal I set, but I can play. I might not ever produce award-winning work, but I can play.

Oliver’s right; the world does offer itself to my imagination. I do not have to be good, but I have to show up. I do not have to walk on my knees through the desert, but I have to play. I have to try. I have a place. It’s time to get to work.

20 Books That Showcase the Power of Friendship

Friendship can be such a complicated thing, yet it’s essential to our happiness and sense of belonging. I’m an introvert who needs a lot of alone time to feel like myself, but even I know how important it is to spend time with my friends. Romantic and familial relationships are the ones that get the most focus, yet friendship can sustain us even when our partners or family fail us.

This post was born when I was looking through my recent reads on Goodreads and realized how many books have friendship at the center, so today, I’m sharing 20 titles that show the good and bad in friendships. The books on this list celebrate or explore friends in all their complexities and shortcomings. I hope you’re inspired to pick up one of these books and to maybe even text that friend you haven’t talked to in a while.

The all night sun book cover

The All-Night Sun by Diane Zinna

Bonding with a charismatic student during a summer trip to Sweden, a writing teacher at a Washington, D.C. college discovers the student’s dark nature during a Midsommar’s Eve seaside camping trip that takes an ominous turn.

The first book on this list is about a codependent friendship that gets incredibly messy. I appreciate novels about complex women, which I found in this underrated gem from Diane Zinna. Thanks to the setting, this book makes for a great summer read.

The banned bookshop of Maggie Banks book cover

The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks by Shauna Robinson

When Maggie Banks arrives in Bell River to run her best friend’s struggling bookstore, she expects to sell bestsellers to her small-town clientele. But running a bookstore in a town with a famously bookish history isn’t easy. Bell River’s literary society insists on keeping the bookstore stuck in the past, and Maggie is banned from selling anything written this century. So, when a series of mishaps suddenly tip the bookstore toward ruin, Maggie will have to get creative to keep the shop afloat.

I’m usually out if I hear a book described as “heartwarming,” but my love of books about books drew me to this novel anyway. I tend to prefer darker stories, yet I was utterly delighted by The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks. Seeing a diverse community come together in the name of literacy and the freedom to read made for a feel-good and satisfying story. 

Beautiful world where are you book cover

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

Alice, a novelist, encounters Felix, who works in a warehouse, and asks him if he’d like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend Eileen is recovering from a break-up and starts flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood.

This book got more mixed reviews than Sally Rooney’s earlier novels, but I loved this one. The interactions of the four protagonists, specifically the relationship between the two women, were consistently engaging, thanks to Rooney’s excellent prose. Readers more interested in characters than plot will enjoy this book the most.

Crossing to safety book cover

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

Two young couples, Sid and Charity and Larry and Sally, from different backgrounds–East and West, rich and poor–befriend each other in 1937 Madison, Wisconsin.

Crossing to Safety is a lovely character study that explores marriage and friendship. (In some ways, it reminds me of Stoner by John Williams because of its excellent simplicity.) When I read this book, I didn’t love it at first, but I still remember these characters and how Stegner made me feel, so I knew it earned a place on this list. 

Dinosaurs book cover

Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet

After walking from New York to Arizona to recover from a failed relationship, Gil discovers new neighbors in the glass-walled house next-door and finds his life meshing with theirs.

I read Dinosuars toward the end of 2022 and promptly recommended it to friends I knew would appreciate it. Like Beautiful World, Where Are You, this novel is a character study that takes relationships seriously, both long-term friendships and new ones. Lydia Millet shows how friendship can give us roots when we’re just wandering through life. 

Frances and Bernard book cover

Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer

A tale loosely inspired by Robert Lowell and Flannery O’Connor traces the intense friendship and literary bond shared by two mid-20th-century New York writers through an exchange of letters that explores their respective writing forms and beliefs about faith, passion and the nature of acceptable sacrifice.

Flannery O’Connor is one of my favorite writers, so I knew I’d love this book before I read a paragraph. Thankfully, I was right. Books and creativity can unite people in powerful ways, which this novel beautifully explores.

Give me your hand book cover

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott

Distancing herself from an intense best friend who inspired her scientific ambitions before divulging a life-changing secret, Kit competes for a dream research job and finds herself in a dangerous game of cat and mouse.

Megan Abbott writes suspense so well. I keep coming back to her work because it’s atmospheric and surprising; I can feel the tension her words create. Give Me Your Hand shows what happens when friendship turns into rivalry. I read this book several years ago, but I still remember how unsettled it made me feel. 

The great believers book cover

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

A novel set in 1980s Chicago and contemporary Paris follows the director of a Chicago art gallery and a woman looking for her estranged daughter in Paris who both struggle to come to terms with the ways AIDS has affected their lives.

The Great Believers is an outstanding novel about all kinds of relationships, but friendship is at its heart. I’ve read many books over the years that didn’t stick with me, but the characters Rebecca Makkai created still live in my head. After reading the excellent I Have Some Questions for You, Makkai has become one of my favorite novelists.

The gunners book cover

The Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman

Reconnecting with a group of childhood friends after one of them committed suicide, Mikey needs to confront dark secrets from his past involving his father to assess how much of this is impacting his current emotional stupor.

Making and keeping friends often seems more challenging as I get older, which is one of the reasons I like The Gunners so much. The story is about a group of friends in their 30s, and I appreciate the exploration of adult friendship and the changes that occur as we age. 

The life council book cover

The Life Council: 10 Friends Every Woman Needs by Laura Tremaine

Author and podcaster Laura Tremaine offers women a new way to think about friendships and practical ways to find, build, and keep the right friend for every season of their lives.

Laura Tremaine consistently provides wise guidance on friendship, whether on her podcast, Instagram stories, or books. I’ve learned much from Laura about being a better friend. She writes without judgment or shame, gently encouraging her audience to give their friendships the care they deserve.

A little life book cover

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Moving to New York to pursue creative ambitions, four former classmates share decades marked by love, loss, addiction and haunting elements from a brutal childhood.

A Little Life wins the award for the most devastating novel I’ve ever read. It took me days to mentally move on from this book. It’s bleak and heartbreaking, but that makes the friendships even more powerful. 

The music shop book cover

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

It’s 1988. Frank owns a music shop, jam-packed with records of every speed, size and genre–as long as it’s vinyl. Day after day Frank finds his customers the music they need. Then into this shop arrives Ilse Brauchmann, and Frank falls for this curious woman.

If you just finished A Little Life and need a pick-me-up, try The Music Shop. This book has some romance, but my favorite part of the story is the relationships between the townspeople. 

My best friend's exorcism book cover

My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

The year: 1988. The place: Charleston, South Carolina. Abby and Gretchen have been BFFs since fifth grade, but now that they’re in high school, Gretchen seems different. After a series of bizarre events, Abby realizes that Gretchen has a demon living inside her — and it’s up to Abby to rescue her friend.

And now for another novel set in the 1980s! I’m not entirely sure what inspired me to pick up My Best Friend’s Exorcism since it differs from what I usually read, but I’m so glad I encountered this wild story. Grady Hendrix writes about female friendship incredibly well.

Never let me go book cover

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

A reunion with two childhood friends–Ruth and Tommy–draws Kath and her companions on a nostalgic odyssey into the supposedly idyllic years of their lives at Hailsham, an isolated private school in the serene English countryside, and a dramatic confrontation with the truth about their childhoods and about their lives in the present.

Never Let Me Go is one of the most emotional friendship stories I’ve read. This novel is the type of book that could be discussed for hours. Ishiguro raises interesting questions in his work, and this book is no exception. 

 Now is not the time to panic book cover

Now Is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson

Twenty years after secretly causing panic in her hometown through the written word and artwork, along with a fellow loner named Zeke, famous author, mom and wife Frances Eleanor Budge gets a call that brings her past rushing back, threatening to upend everything.

Common obsessions make it easy to bond with certain people, and that’s what serves as the glue for this novel’s protagonists. I recently saw this book at a thrift store and was appalled that someone got rid of it because I love it so much.

The pleasure of my company book cover

The Pleasure of My Company by Steve Martin

Daniel, a troubled man who lives alone, detached from the world, passes his time filling out contest applications and counting ceiling tiles, until his attachment to Clarissa and Teddy helps him rediscover the outside world.

This slim book is such a joy, especially on audio. Of course, since Steve Martin writes it, it has moments of humor, but The Pleasure of My Company also has a lot of heart. Of all the books on this list, this friendship might be my favorite. 

Providence book cover

Providence by Caroline Kepnes

A tale of two childhood best friends—part love story, part detective story and part supernatural thriller—follows Jon, a boy with a strange power that can harm those he most loves, as he aims to protect his friend, Chloe, from it.

Providence is super weird, and I’ve never heard another person talk about it, but I stand by my adoration. I have such love for my childhood friends that I can’t help but root for friendships that got their start in those early years. 

Signal to noise book cover

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Returing to Mexico City to attend her father’s funeral, Meche runs into an old friend, with whom she discovered she could cast spells using music, reviving buried memories that cause her to question her estrangement from her loved ones.

Music has been a big part of my life, which is one of the reasons I like this story about its power. This book recently got rereleased, and I’m happy it gets another chance to shine and find an audience.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow book cover

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Spanning thirty years, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Venice Beach, California, and lands in between and far beyond, this is a dazzling and intricately imagined novel that examines the multifarious nature of identity, disability, failure, the redemptive possibilities in play, and above all, our need to connect: to be loved and to love. Yes, it is a love story, but it is not one you have read before.

When I started reading this book, I worried it couldn’t live up to the hype. Thankfully, it does. Gabrielle Zevin has written an unforgettable story about friendship and all its difficulties and triumphs.

Vintage contemporaries book cover

Vintage Contemporaries by Dan Kois

Pulled back into her past when a posthumous work needs a publisher, reconnecting her with an old friend, successful book editor and new mom Emily is forced to reckon with her decisions, her failures and what kind of creative life she wants to lead.

Vintage Contemporaries focuses on two friendships: one between peers and one between a woman and the friend of her mother. As someone with intergenerational friendships that are dear to me, I love seeing that type of bond represented in fiction.

All summaries are from NoveList.

What books would you add to this list? What’s the best book a friend has ever recommended to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

What I Read and Loved in March 2023

You never know what you’ll get with March, at least in the Pacific Northwest, where I live. There could be a blizzard, or I could comfortably wear sandals. Each day is a surprise. Thankfully, this March had decent weather and some excellent reads. I also watched and listened to some great stuff, so stick around to see what I enjoyed last month.

what I read and loved in March 2023

What I Read

yellowface book cover

Yellowface by R. F. Kuang
Format: eBook

Athena and June are writers whose careers are going in different directions. June’s first novel wasn’t very successful, while Athena is literature’s new darling. Her work is beloved, and she just signed a deal with Netflix. While celebrating with June, Athena dies, leaving behind her newly-finished manuscript. June takes the draft, decides to do some editing, and presents the book as hers. What follows is a timely story about representation, creativity, and who can tell what stories. 

Yellowface isn’t a thriller, but it’s most certainly a page-turner. The tension builds slowly as June’s lies start to unravel. I found her panic and sense of entitlement fascinating, as well as the behind-the-scenes look at publishing. I know Yellowface will be toward the top of my 2023 favorites list, and I can’t wait for readers to pick it up. 

Thanks to NetGalley for an early copy of this book. It releases on May 16.

Vintage contemporaries book cover

Vintage Contemporaries by Dan Kois
Format: eBook

Emily and Em are quick friends when they meet in the early ’90s. Emily is loud and rebellious, and Em is a bookish woman finding her way in publishing as an editor. Em also befriends Lucy, a dear friend of her mother’s, and helps bring Lucy’s books to life. These two friendships are the foundation of Vintage Contemporaries, a novel set in New York City during 1991 and the early 2000s.

As a reader who loves books about books and stories set in NYC, I’m the ideal audience for this novel, so I thought I’d love this one. While I do like it, I think it’s overstuffed with storylines. In addition to the novel’s two primary relationships, Dan Kois addresses housing rights, police brutality, and workplace harassment. The last topic seemed like an afterthought instead of an organic part of the story.

Despite my issues with the book’s occasional lack of focus, I loved Kois’s take on female friendship, specifically the intergenerational bond between Em and Lucy. I also enjoyed the honest look at how relationships change and evolve as people’s lives get more complicated. Patient readers who are looking for books about complex women and the bonds between them will appreciate the heart of this tale.

The kind worth saving book cover

The Kind Worth Saving by Peter Swanson
Format: eBook

Henry Kimball is working as a private investigator when Joan enters his office. She was one of his students when he taught high school, and now she’d like to hire him to ascertain whether or not her husband is having an affair. As Kimball starts working on the case, he realizes Joan is much more complicated than he initially assumed. 

Peter Swanson is one of my go-to mystery writers; this book reminded me why. His stories are always fast-paced, exciting, and feature twists I don’t see coming. The Kind Worth Saving is the sequel to Swanson’s The Kind Worth Killing, which I haven’t read. Since I enjoyed this book so much, I want to go back and read the first one. 

My last innocent year book cover

My Last Innocent Year by Daisy Alpert Florin
Format: eBook

It’s 1998, and Isabel is finishing up her senior year of college at a prestigious East Coast university. Early on in the novel, she has a sexual encounter with a date that leaves her wondering whether what happened between them was assault or just awkward. As she processes what happened, she begins an affair with a creative writing professor who fills her with praise and acknowledges her talent.

This story is set at the time of the Clinton and Lewinsky scandal, and the novel does an excellent job of using that background to explore relationship dynamics two decades before the #MeToo movement would do the same thing. I love campus novels and stories with messy relationships, so I thoroughly enjoyed this book and can’t wait to see what’s next for Daisy Alpert Florin.

Games and rituals book cover

Games and Rituals by Katherine Heiney
Format: eBook

Games and Rituals is a hilarious, sharply written short story collection that made me laugh repeatedly. The first story is about a group of employees at the DMV, while a story with a more serious tone reveals how a woman found out her husband is seeing someone else. One of my favorite stories is about a woman and her husband who get roped into helping his ex-wife move. I really liked this book and was disappointed when it ended. 

Thanks to NetGalley for an early copy of this book. It releases on April 18.

What I Loved

The edge, Bono, and Dave Letterman sitting at a table

DOCUMENTARY: Bono and the Edge: A Sort of Homecoming, with Dave Letterman

U2 has been my favorite band for nearly 20 years, so it’s no surprise I loved this documentary with Bono and the Edge. It’s set in Dublin, and Letterman talks to the guys about how they started the band, what was happening in Ireland at the time, and their music’s impact on the world. The doc also includes scenes from an intimate acoustic concert performed by only the Edge and Bono. This film reminded me why I love this band so much.

MUSIC: Songs of Surrender by U2

This album contains 40 rerecorded, stripped-down songs from throughout U2’s career.

Daisy Jones and the Six poster

TELEVISION: Daisy Jones & the Six

Like many readers, I loved the Daisy Jones & the Six book by Taylor Jenkins Reid. It’s written as an oral history, so I knew it would translate beautifully to the screen. This 10-episode series has its flaws, but I did enjoy it, especially the music. It was fun to hear this fictional band come to life. 

Next in fashion poster

TELEVISION: Next in Fashion season 2

I don’t watch much reality TV, but when I do, I like lighthearted shows that champion creativity and star people who actually like each other. Those attributes are exactly what I got with season 2 of Next in Fashion, hosted by Tan France and Gigi Hadid. Each episode features a different challenge in which designers sketch and sew an outfit (or more). I know very little about fashion, but I do know this show is a lot of fun. (This second season is much better than the first.)

Ted Lasso season 3 poster

TELEVISION: Ted Lasso season 3

I love Ted and his group of friends. I’ll miss this show when I get to the last episode.

What did you read and enjoy this month? Is there anything I should read or watch in April?

All Stories Matter: On Book Bans and Silence

On March 23, the American Library Association announced a 38% increase in book bans from 2021 to 2022. That equals 2,571 unique titles, compared to 377 titles in 2019. Publisher’s Weekly says, “Once again, the vast majority of works challenged were written by or about members of the LGBTQ community and people of color; 58% of reported challenges targeted works in schools and 41% targeted materials in public libraries.” These statistics should alarm all of us, but they hit me especially hard because of my job.

Think before you speak. Read before you think.
Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

My work in high school libraries involves many tasks, including cataloging, reference help, marketing, and collection development. All of that matters, but what’s most important to me is putting the right book in front of the right person at the right time. A book can entertain or enlighten us, but literature’s greatest gift is when it shows us who we are and who we can become. There’s something powerful and life-giving about seeing your story reflected in a book because it’s a sign that you matter. That’s why intellectual freedom is so important. 

I’ve been working in libraries for 18 years, and one of the first things I remember learning is that, as a library employee, you do not judge the books people are checking out. You do not criticize, question, or make it difficult for people to access library materials. In 2022, the American Library Association commissioned a poll that revealed 71% of voters–Democrats, Republicans, and Independents–reject book bans. Sometimes it seems like Americans can’t find common ground on anything, yet we see here that the freedom to read has bipartisan support. If that’s true, why are book bans rising? The yelling of a few is drowning out the silence of the majority, and silence is the ultimate goal of those who want to ban books. 

As I’ve thought about these issues, I wondered what causes a person to become furious about a book, perhaps even a book they’ve not even bothered to read. I think the heart of the matter comes down to fear and power. A person might fear someone who doesn’t look like them, live like them, or believe like them because those people might take some of their power. When your story has been the predominant one, you might resent it when others finally become part of the narrative.

At the beginning of this piece, I said that all of the book-banning news has been hard because of my job, but it’s also been challenging to read because of my faith. Many of those trying to get books banned are doing so in the name of Jesus, and as a Christian, I find that abhorrent. Laypeople and scholars can debate many things regarding Scripture, but it’s abundantly clear that stories mattered to Jesus because he taught in parables. The company he kept included outcasts, thieves, sex workers, and liars. My faith matters to me because it’s a faith that flips everything on its head: the weak are made strong, the voiceless can speak, and the exiles get a seat at the table. When the Bible tells us about Jesus’s anger, it was directed toward religious elites who thought they had all the answers. The story of Jesus is scandalous because it includes those who had never been included before and takes back power from those who thought it belonged only to them. 

Because of my job and my faith, I disagree with those banning books on almost everything but this: books are powerful. But instead of being threatened by that I rejoice in it. I want all the students I serve to see themselves reflected in stories because they deserve to feel seen and valued. The misfits, the loners, the bullied, and the silenced have a home at the library. If you agree and are looking for ways to get involved, start with one of these things: 

  • Support your local libraries and library staff: You can do that by using your library card, attending programs, or sending a note to staff members expressing your appreciation.
  • Make some noise: If you live in a city or school district whose libraries are under attack, show up to public meetings. Help make sure that anger and bigotry don’t have the final word. 
  • Vote: Vote in favor of libraries and be informed about school board candidates. Support legislation and people who value intellectual freedom. 

What other steps can you take in order to ensure your freedom to read? What other ways can you support your local libraries? I’d love to hear your ideas! Thanks for reading mine.