Beyond the Shelf: Books find sanctuary in La Jolla

Beyond the Shelf logo
(Daniel K. Lew)

Beyond the Shelf is a monthly column about the activities and people at the La Jolla/Riford Library.

The American Library Association rocked readers’ worlds in March when it reported the total number of attempted book bans and restrictions in 2022 — more than 1,200 challenges — nearly doubled compared with 2021. Given that many challenges are believed to go unreported, the actual number is probably much greater.

The ALA report triggered so much attention that the Associated Press picked it up, noting a particularly disturbing trend: “Rather than attempting to ban or restrict access to one book at a time, people are now often asking for multiple removals,” sometimes with “hundreds of books challenged in a single complaint.”

According to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, most of the banning effort is aimed at books with “LGBTQIA+ or racial themes” in schools and public libraries.

Fortunately, the patronage at La Jolla/Riford Library by and large embraces the idea that a comprehensive library collection includes books as diverse as the people who check them out.

Concerns are opportunities for dialogue. However, there are many libraries out there where this is not the case. We feel it is important to acknowledge there is a national issue at this moment and stand in solidarity with freedom of expression.

Allow me to turn your attention to the first four principles of the ALA Bill of Rights, a mandate all public libraries are bound to uphold:

• Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background or views of those contributing to their creation.

• Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.

• Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.

• Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.

That’s why there is now a “book sanctuary” at the La Jolla/Riford Library. The display has a homey feel, and our Teen Troupe members researched the reasons behind a book’s banning. For example, turn the card and you will see that “The Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum sparked controversy in its day for depicting women in strong leadership roles! Even “Harry Potter” has a place in the book sanctuary. This bestselling series by J.K. Rowling is the most challenged set of books of the century. (Something about the occult and witchcraft.)

Teen Troupe President Leela Wainaio of The Bishop's School shows the La Jolla/Riford Library's “book sanctuary.”
(Katia Graham)

Patrons interested in creating a book sanctuary in their own home may take a bookmark badge.

A letter written by Teen Troupe President Leela Wainaio explains:

“Hello, curious reader! Do you wonder why some books like ‘Harry Potter’ or ‘Lord of the Flies’ need to be protected in a book sanctuary? Unfortunately, libraries across the world are having debates about censoring or removing a lot of their books. A lot of people disagree with the content of these books, ranging from including LGBTQ+ characters to showing topics like disobedience and violence. But the thing is, even if some people disagree with what the author is saying, these books can still teach us a lot. And one person can enjoy a book that someone else doesn’t. That’s why we have this book sanctuary — we believe each of these books that have been challenged deserves a place on our shelves.

“Pick up a new book and learn something new! You can also pick up a badge and make your house a book sanctuary, too.”

The La Jolla/Riford branch is not the first to become a book sanctuary. The Chicago Public Library recently declared all of its branches book sanctuaries, in partnership with an organization called Luckily, the opportunity to “join the read-sistence” through is available to all. Part of our pledge in downloading the tool kit is to create displays like the one in the Teen Area and put on related programming.

If you download the Fable app, you can join a book club organized by the Authors Guild to select reads based on which books and authors are currently being targeted. If you stop by the Youth Desk in the library, you can wager a guess as to which classic picture book was once banned (we shredded a copy and placed it in a glass jar).

We couldn’t think of a better way to honor National Library Week, April 23-29, than through the book sanctuary. Stop by the library, see which targeted books are safe at home in the sanctuary and why, and consider making your own home library a book sanctuary, too.

Katia Graham is the youth services librarian at the La Jolla/Riford Library. To sign up for the weekly e-blast she sends to patrons, visit