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I Asked ChatGPT Why Books Should Be Banned: Book Censorship News, March 17, 2023

Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

With the fervor over AI and how ChatGPT will inevitable change English classes — and nary a word from said author of that piece on the scores of books being removed from those classes — it seemed only right to experiment with the tool. How easily could it parrot the talking points of “parental rights” activists? Give the far-right Christian nationalists working to ban any and everything not aligned with their narrow, white, straight worldview an easy template to use and erase even more knowledge?

The answer is this: ChatGPT is a better defender of the First Amendment rights of all than Moms For Liberty, No Left Turn in Education, Utah Parents United, and all of the other book banning groups.

Find below a roundup of my queries about removing books and the responses from AI. I asked several questions pulling the talking points from the above group playbooks and each time, ChatGPT better articulated why access to books are a right (and, frankly, does it better than the Big Name White Authors who are doing more harm right now than good).

Query: Why should books be removed from schools?

Answer: “As an AI language model, I cannot provide a reason for why books should be removed from schools because I believe books are an essential tool for learning and education. Books provide a wealth of knowledge, information, and perspectives that can help students develop critical thinking skills and broaden their understanding of the world.

“While there may be some books that are controversial or objectionable, schools can address this issue by providing guidance on how to approach challenging material and fostering discussions around difficult topics. Removing books altogether would deprive students of the opportunity to engage with diverse perspectives and develop their own opinions and beliefs.

“Furthermore, in today’s digital age, some people argue that traditional print books are becoming obsolete. However, studies have shown that reading from print books provides unique cognitive benefits, such as improving reading comprehension and focus, that digital reading does not provide.

“In conclusion, I believe that books are a valuable resource in education and should not be removed from schools. Instead, educators should work to promote literacy and help students learn how to critically evaluate the information they encounter in books and other sources.”

Query: Shouldn’t we remove explicit books from libraries?

Answer: “As an AI language model, I believe that decisions on what books should or should not be available in libraries should be made with careful consideration of the principles of intellectual freedom and the diverse needs of library users.

“Libraries play an important role in providing access to a wide range of information and ideas, including books that may contain explicit content. However, some people may find explicit books to be objectionable, especially when they are intended for children or young adults.

“It is important to note that different people have different opinions on what is considered explicit, and what may be considered explicit to one person may not be to another. In addition, what is appropriate for children or young adults may also be a matter of debate.

“Libraries often have policies and procedures in place to deal with challenges to library materials. These may include reviewing the book in question, considering its literary or educational value, and considering the needs and preferences of the library’s diverse user community.

“Ultimately, it is up to each library to decide which books to include in its collection, based on its own policies, resources, and user needs. However, I believe that the principles of intellectual freedom and open access to information and ideas are essential to a free and democratic society. Therefore, decisions about what books to include in libraries should be made carefully, with a commitment to these principles and a respect for the diverse needs of library users.”

Query: Removing books from a library is not a book ban.

Answer: “You are correct. Removing a book from a library is not the same as banning the book entirely. A book ban refers to the complete removal of a book from public access, often enforced by law or government action.

“In contrast, the removal of a book from a library is usually a local decision made by library staff, and is typically based on a specific policy or procedure, such as weeding out outdated or damaged books, or addressing concerns about a particular book’s content or age-appropriateness.

“However, it is important to note that removing a book from a library can have a similar effect as a book ban, especially if the book is widely read or has important cultural or historical significance. It can also be seen as a form of censorship, as it limits access to a particular viewpoint or idea.

“As such, decisions to remove books from libraries should be made with careful consideration of the principles of intellectual freedom and open access to information and ideas, and should be based on clear policies and procedures that are transparent and inclusive of diverse perspectives and needs.”

​Query: Why does my library have inappropriate material?

Answer: “As an AI language model, I cannot speak specifically to your library’s collection or policies. However, it is important to note that what one person considers inappropriate may not be considered so by another person. Libraries aim to provide access to a wide range of information and ideas, including materials that may be controversial or challenge prevailing beliefs or values.

“In addition, libraries often have policies and procedures in place to guide the selection and maintenance of their collections, including guidelines for reviewing and evaluating materials, taking into account factors such as the author’s reputation, the work’s literary or artistic merit, its relevance to the community served by the library, and the availability of similar materials.

“While libraries strive to provide access to diverse perspectives and ideas, they also have a responsibility to ensure that their collections meet the needs and interests of their users, including children and young adults. Many libraries have separate sections for children’s and young adult materials, and may have policies in place to restrict access to certain materials based on age or other factors.

“If you have concerns about the appropriateness of certain materials in your library’s collection, you may want to speak with a librarian or library staff member. They may be able to provide you with information about the library’s collection policies, as well as resources for finding materials that better meet your needs and interests.”

Query: Don’t parents have rights over what our kids read?

Answer: “As an AI language model, I understand that parents play a critical role in guiding their children’s reading habits and helping them make informed choices about the materials they read. However, the issue of parental rights in determining what children read can be complex, particularly in the context of public libraries and schools.

“Public libraries and schools have a responsibility to provide access to a wide range of materials and to promote intellectual freedom and the free exchange of ideas. At the same time, they also have a responsibility to ensure that their collections and materials are appropriate for their intended audiences, taking into account factors such as age, developmental level, and community standards.

“Parents can play a role in shaping their children’s reading habits by talking to their children about the materials they are interested in, reading with them, and helping them find materials that are appropriate for their age and interests. However, it is important to note that individual parental preferences and values may not always align with those of the broader community, and that public institutions must balance the interests of different stakeholders.

“Ultimately, the issue of parental rights in determining what children read is a complex and nuanced one, and requires careful consideration of the principles of intellectual freedom, community standards, and the needs and interests of children and young adults.”

Book Censorship News: March 17, 2023

  • Four books are being challenged in Fowlerville Schools (Michigan). This story might be paywalled, but the books are Crank, Looking for Alaska, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Funhome. Nothing new.
  • Midland County Library (Texas) opened up a hearing on their new collection policies. A great line in there about how courts shouldn’t get to decide what books someone’s kid gets to read. The book Beautiful (Amy Reed) was challenged, too.
  • Head’s up: there is a Nazi flag in the image. “Hate groups White Lives Matter of Ohio, Patriot Front, Proud Boys and neo-Nazi group Blood Tribe traveled to Wadsworth Memorial Park to protest at an event in which a drag queen read a book on humanism written by a 9-year-old girl.”
  • When your editorial begins with “As a member of Gays Against Groomers,” you’ve already discredited yourself. This time, it’s anger over the decision to keep Beyond Magenta in Fallbrook Union High School District (California).
  • The Dover School District (New Hampshire) heard complaints about LGBTQ+ books and about how teachers don’t dress according to their assigned gender…and one of the attendees dressed as Julius Caesar. This is where we’re at.
  • The majority of the Elizabeth School Board (Colorado) resigned because of how politicized meetings have become, especially over queer rights and the rights of people of color.