The latest craze sweeping the nation — book bans — could be coming to a public library near you.
All 34 locations of the Fresno County Library, to be precise.
At a time when attempted book bans and restrictions have become en vogue among conservative activists, Fresno County Supervisor Steve Brandau wants to hop aboard the trend.
During Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Brandau intends to introduce a resolution that would create a 15-member “Community Parent and Guardian Review Committee” tasked with reviewing all current and future library books intended for children and determining which “age inappropriate content” would then be sequestered.
Standing in front of the Fresno County Central Library for a Thursday press conference, the Republican supervisor insisted his proposal isn’t a book ban.
“There’s no banning of books,” Brandau said. “There’s no censorship.”
Let’s be real. That’s exactly what this is. Making certain books or materials unavailable to certain people constitutes a ban, regardless of terminology or procedure.
Attempted book bans — under all guises — at school and public libraries have surged. Data compiled by the American Library Association show there were 695 attempts to censor library materials and services during the first eight months of 2023 and documented challenges to 1,915 unique titles.
Both of those figures are well ahead of last year’s pace, which had the highest number of book challenges since the group started keeping track more than 20 years ago.
In response to the nationwide trend, California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed a bill that allows the state to fine local school districts that ban books with subjects related to race, gender or sexual orientation. The law applies only to school libraries.
What types of books are being targeted? Most of the challenges were to books written by or about a person of color or a member of the LGBTQ+ community, according to the association.
Brandau brings books
During Thursday’s press conference, Brandau brought examples of books pulled from the children’s section of a county library that he said dealt with “complex and controversial sexual-gender issues.”
Three of the titles were “Pink, Blue and You,” “It’s Perfectly Normal” and “Being You: A First Conservation About Gender.” The supervisor held up select pages and commented on dialogue or cartoon nudity whose suitability for kids he questioned.
Listening to Brandau make his points, I kept waiting for him to pull out a children’s book he found objectionable that presents sexual reproduction, genitalia and changing bodies written from a straight heterosexual perspective.
He never did.
“That just shows to me this isn’t about kids seeing nudity,” said LBGTQ Fresno director Jason Scott, who crashed the press conference and got to fire off a couple questions.
“It’s about targeting views and individuals in our community they don’t agree with. They don’t want to see us represented in the children’s section at all.”
Northeast Fresno resident Sophia Heinrichs called Brandau’s review committee proposal a solution to a problem “that doesn’t exist.”
“There aren’t really problem books or content in the children’s section of the library,” Heinrichs said. “Unless you happen to think that queer stuff that is completely non-sexual is inherently problematic. And if that’s the case, I can’t help you.”
Brandau’s “Parents Matter” slogan, printed on a banner held up by a few moms standing behind him during his presser, is a red herring.
Of course parents matter. Parents have every right in the world to monitor and restrict what books their kids read. (At least up until a certain age or maturity level, when that gets beyond their control.)
But that doesn’t mean every book in the children’s section has to be palatable to every single parent. Libraries are meant to represent the entire spectrum of the community and shouldn’t be sanitized to reflect only certain views and orientations.
Let librarians be
The 15-member review committee proposed by Brandau would be appointed by the Board of Supervisors. Because who doesn’t want a bunch of political cronies in charge of choosing what materials are suitable for our county libraries?
Here’s an idea: Let’s allow accredited librarians to continue doing their jobs without inference by politicians.
“I think it’s terrifying,” said Janet Claassen, a retired school librarian who lives in District 2. “Parents have a right to tell their kids not to read certain books. But they can’t do it to mine.”
Lest anyone forget, Brandau is up for re-election next year. His main opponent is Fresno City Councilmember Garry Bredefeld, who hasn’t been shy about sharing the results of internal polling that showed him far ahead.
This is how Brandau intends to make up ground? By becoming the spokesman for banning books and out-flanking Bredefeld on the culture-warrior right?
Considering District 2’s purple complexion of registered voters — 38.2% Republicans, 35.4% Democrats, 18.7% No Party Preference, according to the latest report — it seems a curious strategy at best.
Those figures tell me Brandau would have a better chance of appealing to a larger share of the electorate by branding himself as less extreme than Bredefeld. Not more.
Book bans aren’t just wrong, they’re unpopular. More than 70% of voters oppose efforts to remove books from public libraries, according to an ALA poll.
“I don’t care about getting re-elected,” Brandau declared in response to my question.
His campaign donors will surely love hearing that.