Viral photo of near-empty library shelves sends powerful message: 'We removed every book with content that could offend someone'

Schools are increasingly aiming to ban young adult books from their libraries — something a public library in Texas is taking aim at through Facebook. (Photo: Getty Images)
Schools are increasingly aiming to ban young adult books from their libraries — something a public library in Texas is taking aim at through Facebook. (Photo: Getty Images)

Efforts to ban books at school libraries — particularly those telling the stories of LGBTQ youth — have been in overdrive recently. And now a Facebook post on the topic has gone viral.

The pair of side-by-side photos, shared by Pflugerville Public Library in Texas, aims to provide a visual of what library shelves might look like if everything containing subject matter that could cause someone discomfort was to be removed.

"This is a before and after shot of what a single shelving unit in the library's Teen Space would look like if we removed every book with content that could offend someone," the caption begins. "Out of 159 books, there are ten left on the shelves. We removed books that contained profanity, teen drinking, religious content, racism, magic, abuse, sexual content, and more. But in taking away those books, we also removed examples of friendship, love, courage, creativity, faith, forgiveness, reality, resilience, humor, and history."

The library, it continues, provides an array of choices. "You get to decide which books you and your family check out."

When reached by Yahoo Life for more discussion about the post, which has racked up more than 6,000 likes and over 6,500 shares since it was first posted on Thursday, a spokesperson for the Pflugerville Library says it "will not be taking any interviews" as the folks there believe their social media posts "stand on their own" and that "pulling the story out of that medium loses some of the context, great conversation and feedback we received…"

Just a sampling of that feedback included the comment, "First time I read the Christian Bible I was horrified by the violence, genocide, rape, incest, lying, and cruelty. It is also a book containing insight, wisdom, courage, faithfulness, compassion, and love," with another person responding with, "Amen."

Some expressed concern about the post, asking for confirmation that the books were returned to the shelves, to which the library responded, "All of these books were reshelved and will continue to be in circulation. This was just a visual thought experiment about censorship."

Some deemed the post to be "exaggerated" and even suggested it was hypocritical, with one noting, "Willing to bet that the same liberals complaining about removing books are the same ones cheering the tearing down of historic statues and markers to satisfy their own prejudice."

But the vast majority praised the library for speaking out, saying the post was "amazing" and made them "proud," thanking the library "for staying strong in the face of ignorance" and comparing book banning to Nazism.

The post is an apparent response to a flood of recent attempts to ban young adult books with anti-racism content as well as sexual content, including Gender Queer: A Memoir — which parents have derided as "porn." Complaints about the book have even prompted Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to write to the Texas Association of School Boards ordering districts to "shield children from pornography and inappropriate content." The author, Maia Kobabe, wrote out about the challenges, also happening in Virginia — where just this week the Spotsylvania County School Board voted unanimously to have all books with "sexually explicit content" removed from shelves of school libraries. In that Washington Post opinion piece, she warned, "Removing or restricting queer books in libraries and schools is like cutting a lifeline for queer youth, who might not yet even know what terms to ask Google to find out more about their own identities, bodies and health."

As Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, told Michele Goldberg for her New York Times opinion piece on the rash of book challenges, "What we're seeing is really this idea that marginalized communities, marginalized groups, don’t have a place in public school libraries, or public libraries, and that libraries should be institutions that only serve the needs of a certain group of people in the community."

But Pflugerville, for one, will not be following along.

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