San Diego Libraries Stand up Against Book Censorship

Jerry Wu


Ignite Journalism

Short Description:

Organizations across San Diego have banded together to support the freedom for students to have access to books.

San Diego libraries are standing up against censorship and book bans in support of the freedom to read.

While there has been a renewed effort around book bans in the United States, the concept is not new. The Mira Mesa Library’s Banned Book Club has organized meetings monthly and led discussions about banned or challenged books for nearly 20 years.

Pat Stevens facilitates the club, and her passion for reading has inspired her to fight against book censorship.

“Reading is a window into the world. I recognize that some people may not like everything, but I feel like everybody should have the ability to read whatever,” Stevens said.

In September 2004, Lori McCray, the branch manager of the Mira Mesa Library at the time, organized a one-time event in celebration of the annual Banned Books Week, inviting community members to come together to read their favorite banned or challenged books. Met with a positive response, McCray and the attendees decided to start the Banned Book Club to spread the value of reading all books.

“We try to choose a variety of titles, fiction, nonfiction, no longer just from banned or challenged books list, but [also] just interesting, thought-provoking books,” Stevens said.

Group members share their impressions and opinions about the story’s plot and characters but also consider the question of why the book was banned. The group discusses and carves out the importance of the book and its messages, often covering topics like sex, racial prejudice, and the use of language.

The UC San Diego Library is also fighting against book bans. Every fall, the university library hosts its annual celebration of Banned Book Week to raise reading awareness across campus.

University Librarian Erik Mitchell has always worked to make reading material more accessible and appropriate for differing needs by sectioning the library into spaces with their respective genres and age-appropriate material.

“In a way, this is why public libraries all across the nation have children's reading rooms. Having an age-appropriate space, with content, fosters reading and awareness for children,” Mitchell said.

The library has curated several book exhibits that capture the voices of underrepresented San Diego community members and their cultural heritage. Having completed archives dedicated to the Melanesian and Turner societies, the library has recently worked on an exhibit to celebrate Black history and culture.

“I think that as our society has grown, we [have] become more aware of the social inequities in our past, and then our presence in that conversation has bubbled up to the forefront,” Mitchell said.

Alana Tantisira, a recent graduate from Torrey Pines High School, notes the intrinsic value of books that would be difficult to replace if they become censored.

“I feel like overall, these [books] should all be sensitive because they contain real-life topics. And a lot of these are historical topics as well. And so if you don't acknowledge what has happened, you can never really learn from it, you can never understand how the world functions,” Tantisira said.