Libraries across Michigan recently put on their boxing gloves in the form of a statewide public opinion poll regarding what the state’s residents think about libraries and book banning.
The survey, completed in March by Lansing polling group EPIC-MRA and underwritten by the Michigan Library Association, found that 71 % of the voting public supports the job public libraries are doing.
“There had been two or three national surveys on book banning, but we had to be sure what Michigan people think,” said Debbie Mikula, executive director of the library association. “It was critical we heard the voices of Michigan voters, regardless of political affiliations. We were very happy when we saw the positive results, with 79% of Democratic voters indicating they support libraries and that books should never be banned, followed by 68% of independent voters and 65% of Republican voters.”
“The poll of 847 Michigan voters underlined the concept that individuals have a right to decide what is suitable for them and their families to read, and no one has the right to make decisions that say what others can read,” she added.
In fact, the poll showed an 80% majority of respondents agreed that “individual parents can set rules for their own children, but they do not have the right to decide for other parents what books are available to their children.”
Mikula said censorship isn’t new in this country, and every local library has a process for readers to note books they find objectionable. Ask John Herrmann, who hailed from Lansing and was a member of Hemingway’s lost generation. His book “What Happens” was banned in the United States, causing his career to take a nosedive.
Mikula also said the poll showed overwhelming support statewide against banning books with content about the history of slavery or LGBTQ+ issues, which are the primary targets of those who would ban books.
The poll reported nine out of 10 voters believe “descriptions and depictions of slavery, race and political ideas you don’t agree with should never be banned.” 67% of all respondents said “books with discussions about sex, gender identity or sexual orientation” should never be banned, 21% said they should sometimes be banned, and 9% said they should always be banned. (There was a split across party lines. 86% of Democrats, 76% of independents and 46% of Republicans said these books should never be banned.)
Other findings include:
- 71% of respondents gave public libraries in Michigan a positive rating for the job they’re doing providing programs, services and a diverse collection of books and other materials.
- 70% said librarians are very capable or mostly capable of deciding which books and reading materials should be included in local library collections.
- 42% agreed that “there is absolutely no time when a book should be banned from local public libraries.” However, 45% said that “there are rare times when it may be appropriate to ban books from local public libraries.” What “rare” means was not defined.
- 75% said they agree the most that “we need to protect the ability of young people to have access to books from which they can learn about and understand different perspectives and help them grow into adults who can think for themselves,” while only 17% agreed that “we need to protect young people from books that they might find upsetting or that reflect ideologies and lifestyles that are outside of the mainstream.”
- 77% of respondents agreed that “local public libraries should have a diverse collection of books and reading materials that represent the community and the world around us,” while only 15% agreed that “anyone who opposes objectional material is just pushing a woke ideology.”
The poll also provides a cautionary note for elected officials, since 57% of voters said they’re less likely to vote for their member of Congress, state senator or state representative in the next election if they support legislation that would allow or require books to be banned from their local public library.
Mikula said the library association “will use the data to design a statewide public relations strategy to bring the poll results to the public’s attention.”
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