Traditionally revered as centers of knowledge, libraries, schools and bookstores are now grappling with attacks on intellectual freedom and the right to access diverse literary works. The contentious issue of book bans has taken center stage across the nation, and in metro Detroit, it’s no different. A clash between what has been branded as conservative values and the freedom to read has raised concerns about the boundaries of literary expression, and the battle has continued in cities including Ferndale, Royal Oak, Lapeer and Grand Rapids.  

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The rise of book bans has also brought attention to the “Miller Test,” which was established by the U.S. Supreme Court to define obscenity. The test sets a legal precedent that has often been invoked in debates surrounding censorship, and it’s one that libraries often consult before acquiring new materials. Delving into the state of book bans and literary freedom in Michigan, we’re left with a looming question: is Michigan on the precipice of a larger censorship storm? 

list of teen topics on display at a library

A list of teen topics is on display at a local library to help teens find books on mental health, eating disorders, LGBTQ+ themes and more. | Photo by One Detroit

One Detroit’s Elizabeth Stewart set out to learn how libraries across metro Detroit have been impacted by book bans and where Michigan stands on the issue. Stewart talks with Ferndale Public Library Assistant Director Jordan Wright about ways the library has been targeted by those who wish to keep LGBTQ+ books out of public libraries. She also talks with PEN America’s Freedom to Read Program Director Kasey Meehan about what we’re seeing nationwide.  

Plus, Katie MacFarland, chair of the Oakland County Moms for Liberty, an organization that wants more parental control over their children’s education, shares her thoughts on literary censorship in schools.  Michigan Library Association Executive Director Debbie Mikula talks about the MLA’s MI Right to Read hotline, which started in 2021 to provide local news on incidents of censorship and tips for fighting book bans, along with other resources.

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