Book bans across the nation prompt Nahant Library policy update

Nahant Public Library and the town received a grant for $15,000. (Libby O'Neill)

NAHANT — With book bans and attempts to close programs on race-related and LGBTQ+ literature emerging in schools and libraries across the country, the Nahant Public Library Board of Trustees voted Wednesday evening to amend the library’s program policy, maintaining its right to lend whichever books and host whichever programs it deems fit.

The updated policy lists the criteria with which library-hosted programs are selected. It also creates a “program reconsideration” form that library cardholders can use to voice their complaints about any particular program or book.

Nahant Public Library Director Sharon Hawkes referred to the policy as a “preventative measure” to handle potential controversies that might arise from library-held discussions on topics such as race or sexuality.

“It is said that there’s something to offend everyone, including those of us who are choosing the books, and so we have provided a way for people to come and talk to us if they have a concern,” Hawkes said.

The policy change comes at a time when libraries across the state face public backlash for books and book-related programs they hold. According to the American Library Association, there have been 1,269 demands to censor books and other resources at libraries in 2022 — the highest number of attempted book bans in 20 years.

The number of attempts to remove or restrict library materials in Massachusetts increased fourfold between 2021 and 2022, according to the association, with 10 reported book challenges in 2021 and 45 challenges to more than 30 books in 2022.

Hawkes said the Nahant Public Library has not yet seen any backlash, but that the creation of a clear program policy will allow for a procedural response to any future controversies, should they arise.

“Across the country, there have been disputes over controversial programs. We have not had that here, I’m proud to say, neither in our programs nor in our items on the shelf,” Hawkes said. “If somebody has questions, we encourage them to come and talk to a librarian, and we’re happy to hear them out.”

The vote occurred roughly a week before the library holds its Overcoming Racism program, which will begin on Sunday, Aug. 6. The library is currently lending copies of Debby Irving’s “Waking up White” in preparation for a series of community discussions on race and racism in partnership with Nahant Village Church Pastor Rev. Scott Elliott.

“Is it possible that somebody may think that we shouldn’t be embracing that kind of a topic? It’s possible,” Hawkes said. “I would invite them to come talk to me or to the pastor at the Village Church… but if they still have a question, there would be a form to fill out and a discussion to be had in front of the Board of Trustees.”

More Stories From Nahant