LA County considering making banned e-books available statewide

Saxony, Dresden: A woman stands at the digital research portal in the Central Library of the Municipal Libraries in the Palace of Culture. Photo: Robert Michael/dpa (Photo by Robert Michael/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Challenging what they call a spike in efforts to ban books from school and public libraries, particularly books with LGBTQ+ themes, Los Angeles County supervisors moved forward Tuesday with an effort to make county library eBooks — including publications banned in other jurisdictions — available to all California teens and residents.

The motion by supervisors Lindsey P. Horvath and Janice Hahn, which was approved unanimously by the board, cited a recent report from the nonprofit PEN America that found a 28% increase in book bans enacted across the country in the first half of the 2022-23 school year, compared to the previous six months.

"The number of banned books in California is on the rise," the motion stated. "In 2020, the Burbank Unified School District banned inclusion of classics such as `Huckleberry Finn' by Mark Twain and `Of Mice and Men' by John Steinbeck from their curriculum."

"... We've seen concerted efforts to do the same in other parts of the state, such as the San Ramon Valley Unified School District in the Bay Area and Kingsburg Elementary Charter School District in the Central Valley whose book challenge policy allows for a book's immediate removal in response to a single parent's objection," according to the motion. "The trend is so alarming that recently Gov. Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Rob Bonta, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond issued a letter to school districts statewide cautioning against book bans."

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The motion also noted the recent firing of the Temecula Valley Unified School District superintendent for "including LGBTQ+ civil rights icon Harvey Milk in the school curriculum." Horvath and Hahn noted in the motion that according to the American Library Association, "almost all of the top 10 books targeted for censorship last year in California schools and libraries included LGBTQ+ themes."

The motion instructed county library officials to report back in 30 days with a plan to make digital county library cards available to all residents and teens in California — with the goal of launching the program during Banned Books Week Oct. 1-7 — and identifying a funding source for purchasing eBooks, "including commonly banned books."

"I am deeply troubled by rise in bans on books that uplift the experience of LGBTQ+ people, people of color, and historically marginalized communities," Horvath said in a statement after the vote. "L.A. County is prepared to expand access to literature throughout our state as others seek to ban it. We have an obligation to ensure that residents across California are able to consume literature that promotes inclusive learning and a truthful telling of our nation's history."