(Editor’s note: March 3 is World Book Day, an annual event organized by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to promote reading, publishing and copyrights. This date is increasingly important because of pressure by right-wing zealots to ban from schools books they consider “dangerous”—meaning books that could educate our youth.)
The first time I walked into a library, I was a star-struck seven-year-old wondering why the San Bernardino Public Library housed books, animals and a garden underneath one roof. At the time, it was not obvious that the library served a greater purpose than computer games and wild chinchillas in cages.
Years later, when I signed my name on my new library card for the Fig Garden branch in Fresno, the impact still went unnoticed. From poetry competitions and DIY ice cream workshops to career fairs and Wi-Fi-enabled vehicles, communities and politicians do not notice the importance of libraries. Libraries are pillars of our communities as a valuable resource.
My middle school years hold my favorite memories, and it isn’t a coincidence that those years were spent in the school library. Every day, I would take my lunch, haul my heavy backpack from class and walk directly to the library.
What gave me the confidence to browse the countless titles, and to shamelessly share my poetry in English class, was the support of the school librarian, Ms. Lum, and her book club. As all school employees should strive to do, she empowered my ambition to become a writer and encouraged me to show off my work with confidence and a proud sense of ownership.
The book club, formally known as Battle of the Books, provided me with an outlet to find my new favorite books and make new friends, and it introduced me to the world of nerdy competitions.
The importance of the Battle of the Books was not lost on me even at the time. This voluntary reading incentive program encourages young readers to improve their literacy and foster a love of reading. The idea was simple, but exciting.
Schools were provided a list of books for students to read, and at the end of the year a competition similar to a quiz bowl was hosted at a local university. I lived and breathed those books all year until we brought victory to our school two years in a row.
Programs such as Battle of the Books exist in different variations but with the same purpose—improving literacy rates in schools and creating a love for reading.
Librarians everywhere actively create educational environments to be more inclusive with this ideal intact. However, recent changes in our political climate have led to a war on books led by both parents and elected conservatives. Popular books such as The Bluest Eye and The Hate U Give were two of the most challenged books of 2022 for their “profanity” and “anti-white agenda.”
School librarians in Texas have been given different lists of at least 80 books to remove from their libraries. Several of the listed books have been deemed “pornographic” because they discuss sexuality and gender identity. For example, Lawn Boy and Gender Queer appeared on multiple school districts’ banned lists.
Nevertheless, librarians have become increasingly passionate and are actively fighting these bans. Texan librarians have started a freedom-fighting movement, known as #FReadom (or @FReadomFighters on Twitter), to challenge these lists and advocate for the often ignored voices of our children and youth.
When I applied to the master’s program in library and information science at the University of Washington, I did so knowing that I would be walking into an unappreciated, underpaid profession.
What helped me make this decision was not only a love for books but also a love for my community and the importance of libraries. It is a career that can minimize knowledge gaps and provide essential resources for new generations.
Librarians can repair communities and are always fighting for the freedom of information. As a future children’s librarian, I will join the fight to ensure that inclusive titles will always be available for curious students to flip through.
Eventually, I will give back the same confidence that Ms. Lum gave to me during the most important years of my life.