September 30, 2022
Jeff Todd- Board President
Parkway School District
455 N.Woods Mill Road
Chesterfield, MO 63017
cc: Dr. Keith Marty- Superintendent
Dear Mr. Todd and Dr. Marty,
We were asked by members of your community to write on behalf of students, teachers, and librarians in your district. Your recent effort to remove a series of award-winning graphic novels by beloved artists and authors is concerning and part of a nationwide trend to get between readers and their books. This includes, in your case, The Handmaid’s Tale a graphic novel adaptation of the book by Margaret Atwood, Blankets by Craig Thompson, Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, and Fun Home and Are You My Mother by Alison Bechdel. As librarians, we are firmly against removal or other censorship of these works and would ask that you reconsider. In particular, this statement that appeared in the Post-Dispatch a few weeks ago was of concern:
In order to make sure students cannot access these materials through our partnership with St. Louis County Library, we have also removed access in the SORA app to all materials in the “general adult” category since we cannot restrict access to individual books in that system. Students can still access those materials in the public library, just not through our system.
Beyond the troublingly obsequious censorship actions you’ve taken related to SB 775 and MO-Revised Statute 573.550, this added action of blocking access via the Sora app undermines the autonomy of public libraries. In this case, you are restricting student use of the St. Louis area’s largest library system, a system to which students should have complete unfettered access as residents of St. Louis County. Here you not only block access to graphic novels in your district, but you set up roadblocks to students who simply want to read content that may have been arbitrarily deemed developmentally beyond their grasp.
First, let us assure you that students who read above their “grade level” are some of our most familiar library users. On their behalf, we would point out that readers may wish to access “general adult” content for a number of reasons. For example, if students are fans of horror fiction, they may want to read Stephen King’s work this Halloween season, rather than a book that has been deemed more ‘developmentally appropriate’. Advanced readers such as these might have interests or abilities that make it necessary to move beyond the age-designated part of the collection, which indeed they may have already read. Why should a reader be turned away from content? Genre fiction and graphic novels are two of the best tools we have to entice literacy and to encourage a life-long love of reading.
To be clear, we find that much of what gets dubbed “adult content” is labeled as such because it speaks to LGBTQ+ readers or folks interested in equal rights with regard to gender. In each of the five graphic novels you’ve taken action against, you will find both LGBTQ+ identity and gender-equality represented as themes. We can assure you that this slight is especially clear to your students. Rather than acquiescing to the anxieties and ignorance of those trying to have books removed, we suggest instead that you center the wellbeing and enrichment of your students when making decisions about book challenges. Your students are our readers. When young people notice a major difference in the degree of freedom they experience in schools compared to libraries, they begin to question the processes at play that causes this difference.
Readers will always find their books (and we will help them do it), but if they have to jump through a series of foolish and paternalistic hoops to get there, they will also lose trust in those institutions and leaders who restrict their intellectual freedom. The trust of students is hard won, and easily lost. Preserve the trust that students, parents, and community members place in schools as institutions that prepare youth to be a part of the world. Do not create more barriers between our readers and the world around them.
MLA-Intellectual Freedom Committee, 2022 Chair
MLA-Intellectual Freedom Committee member
MLA-Intellectual Freedom Committee, Past Chair
MASL – AASL Delegate
MLA-Intellectual Freedom Committee, Social Media and Communications
MLA-Intellectual Freedom Committee, Chair-elect
MLA-IFC Banned Books Week Statement