Efforts by groups and organizations to ban books in Michigan are being made against an overwhelming majority of public opinion that opposes such actions.
That’s the takeaway from a newly released poll of 800 Michigan voters by EPIC-MRA commissioned by the Michigan Library Association (MLA) which sought feedback regarding awareness of, and attitudes toward what was described as “the increasingly intense and coordinated efforts to dictate the collection content of local public libraries.”
EPIC-MRA, which conducted the survey from March 23 to March 30, included 70% cell phone only respondents. The poll had a margin of error of 3.5%.
Among its findings were a 71% solid majority of all respondents who gave local public libraries in Michigan – including their local public library – a positive rating for the job they are doing providing programs, services and a diverse, quality collection of books and other materials to their library patrons.
Those majorities also ran across party lines, with 79% of Democrats, 68% of independents and 65% of Republicans offering a positive job rating.
Additionally, 83% of all respondents said they would support state legislation that would protect the right of the public to read what they wish to read in local public libraries and not have books banned. The poll indicated broad support across the political spectrum for this measure, including 95% of Democrats, 89% of independents and 70% of Republicans.
“Libraries uphold the rights of citizens to read, seek information, and speak freely as guaranteed by the First Amendment,” MLA Executive Director Deborah E. Mikula told the Michigan Advance. “And in the spirit of that role, we owe it to every citizen of Michigan to make sure there is material of interest to them on our library shelves.”
In Michigan, efforts to ban books from public libraries have embroiled communities including Grand Rapids, Ottawa County, Dearborn, Milan, and Lapeer County. There have been similar efforts from right-wing groups across the country.
Book banning was part of Republican gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon’s platform for the 2022 election, along with vowing to enact a Florida-style “Don’t Say Gay” law. Dixon lost by almost 11 points to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Last week, all House Republicans voted against a resolution declaring April 25, 2023, as Librarian and Library Worker Day in the state of Michigan.
Mikula said the growing effort nationally and in Michigan to ban books in school and public libraries, as well as verbally assail libraries and librarians stand in contrast to the poll results showing Michigan voters solidly support libraries and librarians, and also overwhelmingly oppose efforts to ban books on race, sexuality, gender and history.
“Solid majorities of voters, including those who are parents of school-age children, hold librarians in high regard, have confidence in their local libraries to make the right decisions about what books to include in their collections, and agree that libraries in their communities do an excellent job of providing a diverse, quality collection of books and other materials for their library patrons,” said Mikula.
Other findings from the poll were:
- 70% said that librarians are very capable (33%) or mostly capable (37%) and trustworthy to decide which books and reading materials should be included in local library collections.
- 87% believed that “there is absolutely no time when a book should be banned” or only “rare times when it may be appropriate to ban books from local public libraries.”
- 67% said that “books with discussions about sex, gender identity or sexual orientation” should never be banned.
- 75% said they agree the most that “we need to protect the ability of young people to have access to books from which they can learn about and understand different perspectives and help them grow into adults who can think for themselves.”
- 80% agreed with the statement that “individual parents can set rules for their own children, but they do not have the right to decide for other parents what books are available to their children.”
- 77% agreed that “local public libraries should have a diverse collection of books and reading materials that represents the community and the world around us.”
- 57% said they are less likely to vote for their member of Congress, state senator or state representative in the next election if they support legislation that would allow or require books to be banned from their local public library.
“A small minority who are trying to ban books are cynically attempting to limit as much as possible the teaching of history, especially books discussing slavery, race, political ideas they disagree with, criticisms of people and events in U.S. history, and discussions about sex, gender identity or sexual orientation,” said Bernie Porn, President of EPIC-MRA. “About 9-in-10 voters say books on these topics should never be banned, with 2-in-3 saying the same thing about books dealing with sexual content.”
Scott Duimstra, MLA’s board p[resident and director at the Capital Area District Libraries in Lansing, said the results confirm what their members believed was true all along.
“We have always known that most voters and parents hold librarians in high regard, have confidence in their public libraries to make good decisions about what books to include in their collections, and agree that libraries in their communities do a good job offering books that represent a variety of viewpoints,” he said. “We now have specific Michigan data to back this up.”
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