Big crowd, bestselling authors turn out for Read-In at Utah State Capitol
Librarians, educators, authors, students, and community leaders came together for a Read-In at the Utah State Capitol on Wednesday, January 25th to demonstrate Utahns support of the freedom to read, and opposition to censorship.
The event was organized by Let Utah Read, a new coalition of pro-library, pro first amendment groups including EveryLibrary, PEN America - Utah Chapter, Utah Library Association, and the ACLU of Utah. The event was managed through EveryLibrary's new Fight for the First platform, which allowed the coalition to integrate a successful petition, a discussion group, shared resources, into the event promotion, adding many new members to the Let Utah Read group who will be available to take action as needed in the future.
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Following the hour long read-in, the 200+ attendees were energized by a series of moving speeches by a diverse lineup including bestselling authors Erika L. Sanchéz and Shannon Hale, as well as Jeanetta Williams, President of the NAACP Salt Lake Branch and Tri-State Conference of Idaho, Nevada and Utah, Lisa Bickmore, Utah Poet Laureate, Erika George, Tanner Humanities Center Director and PEN-Utah Co-Chair , and Kimberly Johnson, poet and literature professor. The crowd was also treated to two moving speeches by Utah high school students and Liz Pitts, the Chair of the Utah LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce, who addressed the power of literature in their lives, and the importance of preserving the freedom to read.
Shannon Hale, whose speech was personal, and often emotional offered that, “Attempts to ban books by under-represented kids sends them the message you shouldn’t exist, your stories don’t matter, and we don’t want our kids to empathize with you” noting that, “this is a dangerous message” because “in Utah, suicide is the leading cause of death for 10-24 year olds. More than ever they need us to show them unequivocally. You matter, we love you and we want you here. All of you.”
Hale also pointed out that, “In cultures where discussions about sex are taboo, predators flourish.”, adding, “The existence of sex in a book does not make it pornography, and by diluting the meaning of that word we make it more difficult to protect our kids from actual pornography.”
Erika L. Sanchez, author of the best-selling novel, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, expressed that, “We have the right to exist, we have the right to be here.” adding with some exasperation, “I don’t know how to explain that any further [to those who want to ban books.]” Testifying to the power of books in her own young life, Sanchez said, “When I started to read books about people like me I finally felt seen, that there was a way out, that there was a way for me to have a better life.”
Jeanetta Williams, president of the regional office of the NAACP, who had previously stood with librarians to oppose censorship at a news conference in 2021, was on hand one again to express her strong opposition to censorship and book banning, noting that “the vast majority of these books were written by women or people of color or LGBTQ.” She roused the audience, who often interrupted with applause and hoots of agreement, saying, “This moment in history requires all of us to be unafraid and more committed than ever before to ensuring justice in education for all students. We must not be silent on the banning of books.”
Since the passage of Utah’s “Sensitive Materials in Libraries” Law in 2022, school librarians across the state have had to deal with hundreds of new book challenges. Because these challenges often require the formation of review committee involving additional staff memes, each challenge can cost the school districts thousand of hours of lost staff time, not to mention the lost time that librarians and educators could be serving students. A recent investigative report by KUTV News,uncovered that these hundreds of challenges were filed by just 35 people, mostly associated with one pro-censorship group. In one district, 199 out of 205 challenges were lodged by one married couple.
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This is not surprising given the results of EveryLibrary’s national survey of Voter opinions on Book Banning, which showed that the vast majority of Americans oppose book banning. These finding were confirmed by the American Family Survey (BYU/Deseret News), which found that a mere 12% of Americans think that books should be pulled from library shelves if a parent objects . Jeremy C. Pope, professor of political science at Brigham Young University and co-investigator for the survey, summed it up thus, “The public really doesn’t like book banning.”
Photos by JeriJonise Photography