Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2024 Issue

Believe It Or Not – A Florida School District Removes 1,600 Books from Its Shelves

Book burning in Nazi Germany (National Archives photo).

Schools in Escambia County, Florida, have removed an astonishing 1,600 books from their schools in response to a law passed last year by the Florida legislature and signed by the Governor. It requires the removal of books with “sexual conduct.” The law ensures that anything that might remotely meet their definition of “sexual conduct” is removed by making it a felony for teachers, librarians, or others not to remove such books. Teachers and librarians did not sign on to the risk of going to prison when they chose their vocations. It is easier to play it safe and just remove the books. The law also provides for parents to object to books and if they do not like the school's decision, make the case go to a special magistrate, a costly process for which the school must pay.

 

The Escambia list looks like some kind of parody of book banning it is so absurd, but a felony prosecution is quite serious if you are the target. The list includes eight encyclopedias, five dictionaries including Merriam Webster's Elementary Dictionary, Ripley's Believe It or Not, the Guinness Book of World Records, National Geographic Kids, Anne Frank's Diary, The World Book Encyclopedia of People and Places, The Teen Vogue Handbook: An Insider’s Guide to Careers in Fashion, The Bible Book, and books by John Grisham (nine titles), Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield Young Readers edition), Michael Crichton, Victor Hugo, Arthur Conan Doyle (Adventures of Sherlock Holmes), William Faulkner (five titles), F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gustave Flaubert, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Thomas Hardy, Marcel Proust, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce (three titles), Stan Lee, Thomas Keneally, Jack Kerouac, Cormac McCarthy, Stephen King (23 titles), Bram Stoker, C. S. Lewis, Sinclair Lewis, Malcolm X, Boris Pasternak, Bill O'Reilly, Sylvia Plath, Ayn Rand, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, and many, many more. Biographies of Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Oprah Winfrey, Nicki Minaj, and Thurgood Marshall also make the list.

 

Some of those removed are permanently banned, while others are off the shelves until further evaluation. How long that will take with 1,600 books including numerous dictionaries and encyclopedias on the list is not known, but that could take a while.

 

The producer of one of the removed books is fighting back. Ripley's Believe It or Not is offering a free book to any Florida resident. Hopefully, they won't be arrested for spreading pornography. Ripley's posted on their website, “Recently, officials in Florida’s Escambia County Public Schools district have plunged into a literary adventure of their own: removing and flagging over 1,600 books for review and potential banning. In a weird plot twist, this includes eight encyclopedias, five dictionaries, and hundreds of reference books – including three of our very own Ripley’s Believe It or Not! titles.

 

“Believe It or Not!, Ripley’s is in excellent company, accompanied on the list with no less than Stephanie Meyer, Maya Angelou, Ernest Hemmingway, and Charles Dickens!

 

“However, the pen is mightier than the sword, and Ripley’s has decided to gift a complimentary copy of their annual book to Florida residents, free of charge. Now through May 15, 2024, Florida residents can request a book be mailed to them at www.ripleys.com/general/floridabooks.”

 

They concluded, “Our focus for the last 105 years has always been a lighthearted look at the curiosities that make up society. We celebrate uniqueness, a responsibility that we take to heart and will continue to for years to come.”

 

This would all be humorous if it was a Ripley' Believe It or Not story, a one-of-a-kind celebration of “uniqueness.” It is not. Attacks on libraries, both school and public, are not just happening in Escambia County nor just Florida. Libraries are being attacked throughout America and librarianship is anything but the peaceful avocation it once was. Books have long been the target of every sort of tyrant, those who wanted to keep people in the dark, deprive them of their freedom to read, learn and think. As the old saying goes, freedom is not free. It is on the run today in a way never seen before in my long lifetime. If the people of Escambia County, Florida, and all America don't cherish and stand up for their freedom, it will be taken away.

 

First they came for the books...

Rare Book Monthly

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