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Demands to ban books were unsuccessful in Rio Rancho Public Libraries


Calls to ban books in public libraries have popped up around the country, with the American Library Association reporting a record number of demands to censor books in 2022. Recently the battle came to Rio Rancho, but those challenges were unsuccessful.

Conservatives demanded the Rio Rancho City Council ban certain books from its public libraries that they deemed offensive. At least three of the titles deal with LGBTQ themes and conservatives argue against children’s access to books about sexuality.

Jason Shoup, director of Library and Information Services for the City of Rio Rancho said books are placed in appropriate sections of the library, adding that Rio Rancho offers parents the option to sign kids up for restricted cards that allow them only to check out books from the children’s section.

"We’re not parents right? We’re librarians. So we’re not here to control anyone’s access. You as a parent are responsible for checking what your children read and keeping an eye out on that" said Shoup.

Shoup has been working in his current role for the past 11 months and said he has only had one request to remove a book in that time.

After weeks of public debate, where speakers mostly denounced book banning and supported the libraries, the city council passed a resolution in support of the Library and Information Services Department.

Jason Shoup also described his experiences working in libraries in today's current climate.

JASON SHOUP: It's a little scary. None of us went into libraries because we thought that this was what we'd be doing. We get into libraries, because we love books and reading, and we love instilling the love of reading in other people, and kids and adults and communities, you know. So it's a little shocking, I think, on some level that this is what our profession has become. But I also think we're well-poised, we're well-trained in things like freedom of speech and the First Amendment and the freedom to read. And the other part about being a librarian is we're passionate about everyone should have access to information, even if it's information that is not something I personally am interested in, right? I don't have to like the book on the shelf, but I'm gonna fight for everyone's right to have it there.

KUNM: There were several city council meetings that heard demands for banning books. But after watching those meetings, you got a lot of support from the public and ultimately, the mayor and the city council. But what was it like having those book banning calls hit so close to home this time?

SHOUP: It was intimidating. It was scary. And especially, we knew some folks would be showing up at that first governing body meeting. And we didn't know how many or what that would look like, right? I and my colleagues here at Rio Rancho. You know, we've read the articles across the country about all the other book bans and all the things that are going on. And often the things that bubble up to the top are the losses, right? The places where the book banners have succeeded, and they have pulled books off the shelf. Uou don't get as much publicity around the stories where communities were successful in protecting the library.

So you know, that was certainly all in our minds going into that meeting and getting there and seeing how many people had shown up in support of the library in defense of the library. You know, people just kind of learned about this and started telling their neighbors and friends pretty quickly. I'll tell you, when I walked up to city hall that night, I got out of the car and walked to the city hall for the meeting, and there is a bunch of folks up front with the big banners that [read] “Support our libraries” And walked up and I was just gonna say, “Hey, I just wanted to introduce myself I’m the library director” and I kind of choked up, I couldn't get it all out, because it did take a minute, because it was really moving to see so much support in this community for their library. They love their library, and they were here to defend it. So that was awesome.

KUNM: You mentioned the community and them rallying around you all. But with that being said, this was an issue about the public library, not school libraries. Why is it so important to have all types of books that reflect the community you serve?

SHOUP: It's really important for us to reflect the community that we live in, right? This is not the Jason Public Library, it's the Rio Rancho Public Library. So we need to have materials for Rio Rancho. And kind of one of the lines that we've been using during this and you know, the library staff have been saying is, “We're here to add voices to the collection, not to silence them” right?

So there’s books here, you may not like. There’s books here I don't like, but that's not the point. But if there's books here that you want, and we don't have, well, let's talk about that, right? So I'm interested in buying more books that reflect your viewpoint or someone else's viewpoint if they're not seeing themselves reflected in the collection.

KUNM: Something that’s stuck with me, that you said earlier, is that you and your colleagues got into your jobs to instill that love of reading and others. But now your role is becoming more political under the current climate. What do you have to say to people moving forward when we talk about these book bans?  

SHOUP: My colleagues and I, we've learned so much about this larger thing in the course of doing this. And there's an American Library Association national organization that we are a part of, and that librarians we really look to. And so they've been super helpful and provide a lot of guidance. And there's an Associated Freedom to Read Foundation that goes with them.

And what we've learned through all this is that at the end of the day, the book banners are going to lose eventually, because what they want is wrong. It's not legal, it's not constitutional. It's a violation of everyone's First Amendment rights. So even the communities where they are taking books off the shelf, at some point, it's going to come back around and those books will be back because that's not America, that's not how it works.

So I guess what I would say to everyone is, you know, we're on the right side of justice in this and we're here because we're Americans, and it's democracy. We believe in the American public library system. And, you know, ultimately, we're going to, we're going to prevail through this.

This coverage is made possible by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and KUNM listeners.

Taylor is a reporter with our Poverty and Public Health project. She is a lover of books and a proud dog mom. She's been published in Albuquerque The Magazine several times and enjoys writing about politics and travel.
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