The line for the tattoo station at the annual conference of the New York Library Association in Saratoga Springs was already snaking through the hotel lobby, and I hadn’t even had my first morning cup of coffee yet. Harry Potter motifs, ghost dogs, angelic hearts, and, of course, books were just some of the tats of choice. These weren’t temporary tattoos or the kind that eventually fades away. These were the real deal. If getting inked seems an act of gritty rebellion more suited to a bikers’ rally than a librarians’ convention, it’s only because we haven’t been paying attention.
Across the country, Republican politicians and right-wing groups such as Moms for Liberty have been waging war against books. Their battlefield: the shelves of libraries. “Book challenges”—attempts to ban or restrict titles—have hit a record high. In August 2022, Missouri passed Senate Bill 775, which made distributing “explicit sexual material” to minors illegal and resulted in the removal of nearly 300 titles from school libraries in the state. People everywhere are targeting books that deal with questions of race and sexual identity or expression.
As I puttered around the conference, I thought about the fact that although books don’t have feelings, the librarians forced to remove them from the shelves definitely do. America’s librarians are under enormous pressure, and they need to blow off some steam.