PARK CITY, Utah – The Park City Library’s new Own Voices Speaker Series is inspired by the #OwnVoices hashtag that was started on Twitter by young-adult fantasy and science fiction author Corinne Duyvis.
Duyvis initiated the hashtag as a way to encourage readers to recommend books about diverse populations, written by authors that belong to that same diverse community, said Becca Lael, Park City Library’s senior community engagement librarian.
So what better topic to kick start the series than a discussion about Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ decision to stop publishing six of the late author’s children’s books that feature material it deemed racially insensitive?
The discussion will be held virtually through Zoom at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 22, and will feature panelists Rita Christensen, Andrew Shephard and Andy Zalot, according to Lael.
Christensen is a children’s librarian at the Orem Public Library and the incoming president for the Utah Library Association, while Shephard, an assistant professor of African American literature in the University of Utah’s Department of English, has an extensive history of researching how literature has been altered throughout the years, she said.
Zalot, a doctorate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is currently researching book banning and young adult literature, Lael said.
“I think our panel is going to be great, and I believe that everyone will bring a dynamic perspective to making the discussion not just about Dr. Seuss,” she said. “I think they will make us think about how we read, what we read and what our fields of literature as librarians, educators and parents are, so we can make wise decisions.”
Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ decision to stop publishing the books — “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” “If I Ran the Zoo,” “McElligot’s Pool,” “On Beyond Zebra!” “Scrambled Eggs Super!” and “The Cat’s Quizzer” — on March 2 started a passionate debate on both sides of the issue, Lael said.
“I think it took some people by surprise,” she said. “Dr. Seuss is historically a beloved children’s author whom we have read as children, and I’m hoping to read with my own child. So, I think a lot of the debate has to do with nostalgia, because most of us remember him as an author we love so much.”
The Park City Library does have a couple of the books in stock, and will keep them available for check out, because it’s not the library’s role to decide which book is better than another, according to Lael.
“Over time, materials that are worn or damaged are removed from our shelves,” she said. “In this case, when these Dr. Seuss books are removed when they are too worn to read, they will not be able to be replaced.”
Lael hopes the discussion will help participants see a bigger picture when it comes to equity and race.
“Equity is one of our core values, and the library is a place for inclusion,” she said. “We actively try to provide materials that reflect our community, and we wanted to have a program that does the same thing.”
Libraries, according to Lael, have historically been places to have conversations, constructive debates and community reflection, she said.
“We picture ourself as the community living room where we go deep with issues we all many not agree with,” she said. “We want to provide a safe place where we can learn from each other. We hope that we will use this discussion to start thinking about our own biases, and help us develop our own individual opinions together.”
The Own Voices Speaker Series will present a discussion once a month, Lael said.
“This has been on our discussion for a while now, and it came out of the question: ‘What is the librarian’s role in response to things like this,” she said. “This was our solution.”