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Broward commissioner voices support for library's banned book ‘sanctuary’

Screenshot of Broward County library cards.
Chip LaMarca, the sole Republican state-lawmaker in Broward, responded to a now deleted tweet from the Broward County Library in which they advertised their limited edition library cards with the words “I Read Banned Books” printed on them.

Broward County commissioners praised the director of the county’s library system after a state lawmaker called the library’s support of banned books too political.

The public library system has embraced books that are being challenged and banned in schools in the state and nationwide by parents and right-wing activist groups. The library features these titles on a portal through their website.

"A vital part of my mission is to ensure that the freedom to read is not compromised," Library Director Allison Grubbs wrote in a statement. "The right to think, speak and learn freely are foundational values in our democracy and in our libraries."

Vice Mayor Nan Rich recognized Grubbs during a commission meeting Tuesday.

“She's gotten some supremely strong flack against this. It's really outrageous. I understand she's gotten some really serious emails and things against her on this,” said Rich, instructing the county administrator to “please extend our congratulations and thank you for her courage and her commitment to the mission that she stands for.”

Library cards spark debate

Chip LaMarca, the sole Republican state-lawmaker in Broward, responded to a now deleted tweet from the Broward County Library in which they advertised their limited edition library cards with the words “I Read Banned Books” printed on them.

“Do you think this kind of hyperbole is helpful when you’re soliciting millions of dollars from the State of Florida@BrowardCounty Asking for the 2M people of Broward,” LaMarca’s tweeted on May 11, calling the library cards political.

“The freedom to read is essential to our democracy. Free communication is essential to the preservation of a free society and a creative culture,” the library responded in another now-deleted tweet.

Libraries and bookstores frequently feature books that have been banned in the past. And while book bans have always been present in the county’s history, activists say the current rate of bans is unprecedented.

According to PEN America, a non-profit human rights and literary organization, Florida has the second highestnumber of school book bans in the country, trailing Texas.

On the county library’s homepage they include a link to their “Book Sanctuary.”

“In celebration of the joy of reading and in support of intellectual freedom, Broward County Libraries has created a Book Sanctuary in each of its 36 branches. Book Sanctuaries are designated areas where endangered stories will be protected and made accessible for exploration or checkout,” the library’s website reads.

Those “endangered stories” include titles that have been challenged and banned in Florida public schools. Books banned in Florida schools usually feature LGBTQ+ characters or address racism.

READ MORE: Will politics escalate the censorship of books in South Florida's public libraries too?

Gov. DeSantis has signed multiple bills into law aimed at controlling what is read and taught in public schools. He has called the book bans “a hoax” and continued to push a “parental rights” message that allows parents more of a say in what is allowed in schools.

One of the laws passed allows for any book to be challenged by a parent and restricted until an investigation is completed. In the 2021-22 school year PEN America documented 565 books banned in Florida schools. Some were banned permanently, others temporarily – pending investigations.

The laws only apply to public schools though, and not public libraries. The Broward County library has 37 branch locations that host over 10 million visitors and circulate nine million items annually, according to their website.

“If you are a parent or guardian, you have the right and responsibility to make decisions about what materials are suitable for your own family,” the library tweeted in response to a Twitter user.

This week the library system will host an event at their African American Research Library and Cultural Center where they discuss “the history of book banning, the cultural pressures that have created today's climate and the community's role in protecting and preserving fundamental rights in our society.”

They will also hand out copies of books that are being banned nationally: A Kids Book About Systemic Racism by Jordan Thierry and A Kids Book About White Privilege by Ben Sand.

Florida school district sued

Writers' group PEN America and publisher Penguin Random House sued a Florida school district last week over its removal of books about race and LGBTQ+ identities.

Accrosing to the Associated Press, the federal lawsuit alleges the Escambia County School District and its School Board are violating the First Amendment through the removal of 10 books from library shelves.

“Books have the capacity to change lives for the better, and students in particular deserve equitable access to a wide range of perspectives. Censorship, in the form of book bans like those enacted by Escambia County, are a direct threat to democracy and our Constitutional rights,” Nihar Malaviya, CEO of Penguin Random House, said in a statement.

Gerard Albert III covers Broward County. He is a former WLRN intern who graduated from Florida International University. He can be reached atgalbert@wlrnnews.org
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