“The Freedom to Read:” Ms. Grassia’s New Book Removal Request Procedure


The Lloyd Library.

Séamus Pugh, Editor-in-Chief

“I am fighting for my students’ right to learn independently and freely,” said Ms. Grassia, the librarian of the Lloyd Library at Hastings High School, in an interview this past December. “As a librarian, I see myself as a purveyor of knowledge. I have to keep all books open so the knowledge remains open.” 

Groups of parents nationwide are demanding the removal of certain books from libraries and classrooms. These books, said Ms. Grassia, are typically either books by diverse authors or books dealing with LGTBQ subjects. Towns as nearby as Dobbs Ferry have dealt with such complaints, so Ms. Grassia is preparing a procedure to deal with removal requests for books in the Lloyd Library. 

“I’ve been aware of book banning for years, but until now, I’ve never seen anything hit so close to home as in Dobbs Ferry,” said Ms. Grassia. She explained that a post on Twitter had encouraged parents to attend school board meetings and protest a book concerning LGTBQ themes that the librarian had read in a second-grade classroom. 

Ms. Grassia has kept abreast of the book-banning crusades on social media, where she connects with other librarians in Westchester Schools. “I have heard from other librarians that schools in Yorktown, Somers, and Lakeland have all had books requested for removal,” explained Ms. Grassia. 

In considering these recent events, Ms. Grassia began to devise a process to deal with these complaints. 

The current process, which is still under development, states that parents, students, teachers, or community members who are unhappy with a book currently in the library must file an informal complaint to any member of the faculty. Ideally, discussion at this level will resolve any issues. If the conflict remains, the complainant must then lodge a formal complaint, prompting the formation of a committee. The committee, which would consist of five or seven people, would include the principal, the librarian, an English teacher, and, optionally, members of the community with no ties to the disputant. Critically, the committee and the disputant must both have actually read the book. As Ms. Grassia said, “Knowing what I know about banned books, frequently when you ask a person who wants a book banned to actually read it, that person drops the complaint.” 

The committee would then act as a sort of jury to decide whether or not the book should remain in the library or not. The process is designed to happen quickly: the committee must meet within ten days of the submission of the original formal complaint. 

The procedure, noted Ms. Grassia, is still being developed. Additionally, only the Board of Education can make binding policy about how complaints like this would be handled. Still, said Ms. Grassia, “I can create procedures. I hope this issue never comes to Hastings, but I want to be prepared.” 

Ms. Grassia in the Lloyd Library.

The policy outlining the selection and maintenance of books in the Lloyd Library differs from the policy that protects books used in the classroom. Board Policy 1420 outlines the process for the objection to instructional materials, which, like Ms. Grassia’s procedure, involves a committee. Books available at the Lloyd Library are not necessarily instructional materials; as Ms. Grassia said, the Board offers the librarian freedom in selecting books for the library. Policy 4513, which guides the book selection process, dictates that “broad and varied collections will be developed systematically by the librarian and the audiovisual specialist.” 

Policy 4513 ensures that the materials will be “representative of the many religious, ethnic, and cultural groups and their contribution to our American heritage,” and that the librarian should “provide materials on opposing sides of controversial issues so that young citizens may develop, under guidance, the practice of critical reading and thinking.” 

Given this guidance, Ms. Grassia is concerned about the current crusade to remove some educational materials from schools and libraries: “It’s almost a movement that is coming for the freedom to read.” According to The New York Times, the American Library Association received 330 reports of book challenges in fall of 2021; The Guardian reports that there were only 156 such reports in all of 2020. 

On December 6th, 2021, the San Antonio Express News reported that San Antonio’s North East School District had pulled over 400 book titles covering subjects like race, abortion, gender, and LGTBQ issues. On January 10th, 2021, the McMinn County Board of Education in Tennessee voted to remove the Pulitzer Prize-winning Holocaust novel Maus from the curriculum. On February 6th, The Guardian reported that Tennessee pastor Greg Locke had hosted a book burning where his congregation tossed copies of Harry Potter and Twilight into a roaring bonfire. 

Ms. Walters, an English teacher at Hastings High School, “I think that book banning [in this context] is always a matter of wanting to control the information that reaches your child. It almost always comes back to a person’s values, and whether the text will challenge those values.” 

Like Ms. Grassia, Ms. Walters challenged the idea that banning books somehow preserves impartial political discourse. “Groups [that want to remove content focused on race or gender] argue that the school is trying to shove something down their throats. But I think that is hypocritical, because arguing that something cannot be read is the same as arguing that their ideology is the one everyone should go with.” From her perspective as a parent, Ms. Walters felt that her personal concerns would never impact the Lloyd Library’s collection. “As a parent, I could never see a situation where I’d want a book removed from the library.”

Ms. Grassia ultimately hopes that her procedure will protect the intellectual freedom of Farragut Middle School and Hastings High School students: “The understanding of a library is that there are books here for you, and others that might not be here for you. You have the freedom to choose, and you shouldn’t infringe on that freedom for others.”