Staff and Students Weigh in on Challenges against GN Library’s Book Selections

The Glenbard North High School Library is experiencing book challenges because some parents claim books contain “controversial” subjects such as sexual topics and LGBTQ+ rights topics.  The challenges have led to parents, librarians, and principals getting involved to mediate a solution.

Recently there have been two challenges to books in the Glenbard North library. Dealing with this has been a new experience for the librarians, principals, and all parties involved. The books that are currently being challenged are Gender Queer and All Boys Aren’t Blue because they both contain LGBTQ+ material. LGBTQ+ is seen as very controversial amongst some parents of high school students, so it is a very highly debated topic. Overall, the action of banning books in libraries is considered highly controversial as well.  

The Principal of Glenbard North High School, Dr. John Mensik, offered some insight on the process that a book goes through when a book gets challenged.  Mensik said,  “We do have a process that’s set up for that and it’s in our board policy. The first step would be that they would bring their book challenge to me. And it requires a meeting with myself and our librarian to talk about the book, talk about what their concerns are, and for me to either convince them and for me to talk to them about why I think the book should stay or not.”

The process to challenge a book has certainly not been made easy for parents. It is a lengthy process that encourages parents or whoever is challenging the book to thoroughly read the book and consider the book from all perspectives. Melanie Elfers, head librarian at Glenbard North High School, said, “You can’t have a discussion about a book being removed and its value if you haven’t read it. So they have to read it cover to cover, and they have to fill out a form with three questions on it trying to get them to think about the value of the books.” The goal is to try to get the parents to really consider why they are challenging the book and help them think through their decision before they go farther into the process. According to both Mensik and Elfers, the decision to ban a book should not be taken lightly by any parties, and the lengthy process is to ensure a book is not being banned for the wrong reasons. 

Laura Payton, English Department Chair at Glenbard North High School, had a lot to say about books being banned.  She said,  “You’re not teaching kids anything by preventing them from exposure to those kinds of things, especially at the high school level.” Payton is not only the English department head but has also taught various classes throughout her time at Glenbard North. She mentioned that she currently teaches a book in her literature and psychology class that is viewed as controversial, but that she does not like to shy away from those topics.  She revealed that she would never want to ban a book that could possibly make a student feel less alone or feel better about themselves. However, she did share that she believes that not all books that are appropriate for juniors and seniors may always be appropriate for freshman and sophomores and that should be kept in mind. 

Payton made it clear that she believes that “in a library, there’s an element of choice there, you can’t just prevent kids from having access to things.”  Many people feel that a book topic should not be banned just because it does appeal to everyone. Many of Elfers’ statements agreed with what Payton said on this topic. Elfers says, “They’re worried about their own children or other people’s children being exposed to things that maybe they’re not comfortable or don’t align with maybe some of their values but as a parent myself, I would be really upset if someone else was free to tell me what my kid could access and not access, right. So it’s a moment of realizing that this has to be a conversation you have with your own child, not necessarily something you should force on all children.”

Elfers understands why parents might come forward with complaints about certain topics. However, like Payton, she feels that it should be a choice made by the child.  As a librarian, Elfers is on the front lines of these situations, and she shared that there is a whole process to select each book that is in the library. She finds it hard to believe that any of the books in the library does not provide value to anyone. The librarians make it a point to keep in mind what material is appropriate for high school students to be reading.  Overall, Elfers said it is clear that people do not seem to have a problem with books, rather the topics they are covering, so this issue is bigger than simply books being banned.  Ultimately, she continued, no book will ever please every potential reader, so it comes down to choosing books that provide variety to students and could make a difference in someone’s life.