Hopkinton, MA
Hopkinton, US
5:40 pm, Friday, September 22, 2023


Independent Thoughts: Library takes stand against censorship

by | Aug 3, 2023 | Featured, Featured: Features

Hopkinton Public Library Director Nanci Milone Hill

Hopkinton Public Library Director Nanci Milone Hill has been trying to make sure new materials reflect the diversity of the town. FILE PHOTO/JERRY SPAR

In a recent Hopkinton Public Library newsletter, Director Nanci Milone Hill addressed the issue of book banning. She referenced an American Library Association report that indicated there were 1,269 demands to censor library books in 2022 — a 38% increase from 2021 and the highest total since the organization began compiling such data more than 20 years ago.

“Perhaps not surprisingly, of those titles, the vast majority were written by or about people of color and members of the LGBTQIA+ community,” Hill noted.

In an effort to get ahead of the situation, Hopkinton’s Board of Library Trustees adopted a statement on censorship at its spring meeting.

“Intellectual freedom is a right for all, and libraries are tasked with providing reliable information, quality service and diverse resources in order to enable that right,” the statement reads. “We respect the right of patrons to decide which materials are appropriate to their individual circumstances, however, no individual or group has the right to restrict access for others. The Board of Trustees endorses and follows the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, which states that a library serves all members of the community, offers diverse materials and condemns censorship.”

Added Hill: “As a librarian, I believe in a collection where everyone can see themselves reflected. I believe in a balanced collection with diverse points of view and experiences. I believe, as librarian Jo Godwin once said, ‘A truly great library has something to offend everyone,’ including, by the way, me.”

In a follow-up interview, Hill noted that the Board of Trustees declared Hopkinton as a book sanctuary, which means that the library “endorses and supports the idea that books have a right to be read, and that people of all different backgrounds and nationalities and colors and sexual orientation have a right to be represented in the library materials.”

Hill said there have not been any challenges or even informal requests for removal of materials. The library has a formal procedure for challenges, with details on its website.

However, what she did find was that there was a segment of the community that was feeling left out. She recalled a situation in June in which she was approached by a library patron.

“I was on the floor somewhere, and a woman approached me and said, ‘I know that this is not going to be a popular opinion, I know that we live in a fairly liberal town, but there are conservatives who live in town, and I don’t feel like we’re represented in your collection. When I look at the new materials, it’s all sort of left-leaning materials.’ So we walked over to the new materials shelf, and as far as what was there, she was absolutely right.

“I said to her, ‘I don’t want to jump to assuming why that is. It could be all of the conservative titles were checked out right now. It could be that the town has made a focus on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, and along with that we did a diversity audit of our collection, which is where the service where we order our books from looked at our entire holdings and ran it against lists of popular diverse authors and titles and gave us recommendations for purchases, and we’ve been making purchases to fill holes.’ ”

Shortly thereafter, the library had a staff meeting, and the topic was raised. A staff member said she was conservative and offered some ideas for new materials, which the library then purchased, Hill said, calling the experience something the library “learned and grew from.”

“We do, I think not just here, but libraries and librarians in general, we tend to be a little bit left-leaning,” Hill acknowledged. “The review journals that we read and look at to decide what we’re going to purchase for our collection are written by librarians, so of course they have the same kind of left-leaning tilt — not that they don’t review conservative authors and titles, and not that we don’t have them in our collection, because we do. But certainly it made us more aware of maybe our internal biases.

“When we say that everyone has a right to see themselves represented in the collection, because diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging is such a hot topic right now, we tend to think about that, but we also need to think: Are we representing those in our community who don’t have that viewpoint? That was really helpful for our growth that she came forward, and we’re thankful for that.”

Examples of new conservative titles include a biography of Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis and some Christian-based literature for teenagers, Hill said.

“All of these titles are titles that can be enjoyed by anyone,” Hill added. “You don’t have to be liberal or toward the right to enjoy a clean romance or to want to learn about folks whose political ideology is different from yours. It’s how we understand and how we think the library can facilitate that conversation about our differences and how we can come together. And we can do that by being more open and understanding to learning more about each other.”

On a related note, the library is planning a program this fall called One Book, One Hopkinton.

“We are asking the entire community to read the same book,” Hill said.

The book is “Digging to America” by Ann Tyler. It tells the story of two families in Baltimore — one American, one Iranian-American — who adopt Korean babies and raise them very differently.

“The American family raises her with her Korean culture, and the Iranian family chooses to raise their child completely American,” Hill explained. “So it’s this conversation about how do we move into new communities and become part of these communities while still keeping our own cultural identity.”

There will be related events for children, teens and adults, Hill shared. She noted that the South Asian Circle of Hopkinton is involved with the program, which is funded by the Hopkinton Public Library Foundation.

Said Hill: “It’s a great way to bring the community together, and that’s what we’re hoping to do.”


  1. Tina

    Great article

  2. John

    If I may ask for clarification. In Massachusetts there were 45 requests in 22 to restrict access to books and when you dig into it, it appears to be based on age appropriateness of the book vs banning from the entire library. I just want to confirm it is library policy that all books can be borrowed by all card holders regardless of age or topic. And that books written for comprehension by an age group would not be banned or restricted based on topic.

    • Sharon

      Check with your local public library, but in general, librarians leave it to the parents to restrict their children’s reading as they see fit, so yes, all books would be available to all. In many public libraries, children under 10 are required to have a parent present, so such monitoring should be very easy.


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