Rural Libraries Under Attack

Libraries and public schools are under attack, both in Oregon and across the country. The ongoing attempts to ban books, censor inclusive curricula and threaten and intimidate teachers, students and other community members working to advance inclusion are anti-democratic to their core! Oregonians in many communities are saying enough is enough and demanding that we protect our democratic right to be well-informed and well-educated.

Outdoor stage with a sign that says "let freedom read" and a person holding up their arms in celebration.
Outdoor amphitheater with books covering its pathways

In Deschutes County, Redmond Collective Action hosted an event on Banned Book Week (September 18-24) called Let Freedom Read (pictured above) that shared free books, food, and crafts, and held storytime as well as a raffle that benefited the local library. Similarly, the public library in Brookings in Curry County celebrated Banned Book Week with an in-person display titled “Censorship Keeps Us In the Dark” and regular social media posts about the dangers of book banning (pictured below)!

For Curry County, this display was particularly powerful because over the summer they faced pressure to remove books from their shelves. Read the full story from Curry County below as well as how Crook County is countering similar attacks! Is your community facing attempts to ban books, censor curriculum, or otherwise enforce the belief that there’s only one “right” way to be a rural Oregonian? Let us know what’s happening where you live and how we can support one another to build a rural Oregon with inclusion and equality for all!

Wall display of book covers and a sign that reads "censorship keeps us in the dark. Banned Books Week 2022"

Curry County: Remove Without Reading

In Curry County, the Chetco Public Library came under attack in July from a small but loud group that wanted to remove books with 2SLGBTQIA+ representation. The first book they campaigned against was Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe. Since then, they have gone after inclusive sex ed books, graphic novels, and more. The anti-queer folks started a social media campaign on community forums where they posted content from these books with false statements aimed to shock people. They claimed the library was peddling pornography and grooming children in sexual deviancy, and some of the county commissioners and the city council people in Brookings supported them. The local person leading this charge even told the library director that she didn’t have to actually read Gender Queer to know that it should be removed from the library. 

When a group of concerned Curry County community members brought attention to this targeted campaign and called for supporting local librarians, many allies and community members joined in, including Indivisible North Curry County, a local human dignity group. They shared accurate information about the targeted books and their placement in the adult or children’s section of the library, as well as about library policies on choosing what to include in their collection. Members of Indivisible North Curry County have not only attended Curry Public Library Board meetings and offered in-person support to library staff, but they have also written letters to the editor in the local paper and shared information with their fellow group members about this issue and about how to support the library and fight back against censorship. 

When the county commissioners joined in the attack via social media, targetting both the libraries and 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals, Indivisible redoubled their efforts to support and campaign for a progressive commissioner candidate who already won more votes than the two challengers during the primary last May. Indivisible has committed to “continue to support our libraries and the Library Board. They are the true heroes who rejected any attempt to relocate, relabel or remove books that are currently in the children’s section of the Chetco Library. Our community holds strong against any attack on human dignity or censorship.”

No Books for Crook County Students

Six hours away, in Prineville, local libraries fended off a similar attack this past spring, and now the anti-democratic group in Crook County is focusing its efforts on the school curriculum.

Steins Pillar Elementary School doesn’t have its own library, so the students were being bussed to the public library once a week to read and check out books to take home. When a student brought home a book with queer characters one day, their parent accused both the school district and the library of having too many ‘woke’ titles and not enough content that appealed to “Christian family values,” or books that were “pro-life.” 

This parent went on to say some of the books were pornographic and that she considered some to be “grooming.” She took to social media to bring other people to her side in calling for the “protection of the children.” The librarians met with this small group of people and explained that since Crook County has 2SLGBTQIA+ families, as well as Jewish and Muslim ones, it is important to have materials that represent everyone who calls Crook County home. The library also shared the processes they have in place for people to request that a new book be purchased or that an existing book be reviewed for concerning content, but never received any formal requests from the group after that.

Similar to those in Curry County, community members quickly rallied behind the library, including folks in the local PFLAG chapter (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), Central Oregon Diversity Project, and the local Democratic Party chapter. People showed up to the library to thank the librarians for their work. They went to library board meetings, shared aligned messages, and even volunteered to fill vacant seats on the library board.

Unhappy with their inability to scare the library into changing their book offerings, the group of people complaining about queer-inclusive books turned their attention to the school board, quickly pressuring the school district into canceling Steins Pillar Elementary students’ weekly trips to the library and leaving them with no library access at all! The same community members who showed up in support of the library, now organizing under the name of Truth and Acceptance, have been working hard to counter this attack.

Their main goal is to make sure the school administrators and school board members know that the majority of people in Crook County support the curriculum updates and library access that have made their schools more inclusive. It has quickly become clear that if no one else is there to provide a counterbalance, the school board will listen to the small but loud group of people parroting language from Mom’s for Liberty, a Florida-based organization calling for an end to mask and vaccine requirements as well as attacking the teaching of sex education and so-called “Critical Race Theory.” 

The same small group that got the schools to stop bussing kids to the library next started calling on the school district to stop teaching about gender identity. The superintendent quickly agreed to that demand as well, without taking into account how many families and community members want students to have access to education around gender and sexuality, not to mention other forms of diversity. For local human dignity leaders, this isn’t just about what kids read in books, it’s about whether they’re in an environment that recognizes and celebrates diversity, including gender identity. In a Crook County Middle School student survey, the most common type of bullying reported was anti-queer harassment! As Becky Groves, a local leader in PFLAG Central Oregon argued: “We need schools where all students can learn and understand the diversity that exists here in town and across the world. We know learning about diversity reduces youth bullying and suicide.”

Woman wearing glasses speaking at a microphone with a crowd seated behind her.

At the September 12th school board meeting, community members filled up the front rows wearing rainbows, shirts that read “Protect Trans Kids,” and more. They provided powerful testimony, and PFLAG Central Oregon presented 157 petition signatures in support of the inclusive curriculum, which they had collected in just two weeks. You can check out the full text of the petition here, though they are no longer collecting signatures. They have also been submitting letters to the editor in the local newspaper and more to spread the word. 

Are you in one of these counties and want to get involved with local efforts? Do you live somewhere else and feel inspired to organize proactively for inclusive democracy? Email emma@rop.org to get connected. 

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