Sharpsburg police are investigating reported tampering with books at the Sharpsburg Community Library, which library officials believe were attempts at censorship.
Branch manager Sara Mariacher said several books were hidden or removed from displays between February and mid-March. A police report was filed on March 24.
“The library and its board (take) this very seriously,” Mariacher said. “We are asking anyone in the community with information about those involved in these incidents to please come forward. This is considered censorship, which the library does not endorse.
Police Chief Thomas Stelitano confirmed on March 29 that a report had been filed and that officers had spoken with library officials. He said the incidents may have been criminal mischief by minors and declined to speak further about the investigation.
Mariacher described the incidents as follows:
• On February 9, someone hid “The 1619 Project” in a pile of cookbooks in a used book sales area. The book had been exhibited in the New Books section. The book by New York Times writer Nikole Hannah-Jones and New York Times Magazine explores the history of the United States through the lens of the transatlantic slave trade and the black experience.
• On February 15, someone deleted a child’s biography titled “Who Was Martin Luther King Jr.?” of a Black History Month exhibit in the Children’s Room and replaced it with a children’s biography of Adolph Hitler. Mariacher said the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh was notified because of the anti-Semitic nature of the incident.
• On March 1, someone placed a complaint written in pencil on a pile of children’s books on anatomy and puberty in the Children’s Non-Fiction section.
The books in question were “Welcome to Your Period!” and “Bunk 9’s Guide to Growing Up”. Both are puberty guides written for upper elementary and middle school girls; and “Who has what!” All About Girls’ Bodies and Boys’ Bodies,” a picture book written for preschoolers and their families that uses “correct terms for body parts,” Mariacher said.
Mariacher said the complaint claimed the books, which were all written for children, were inappropriate for anyone under the age of 18. The letter used the phrase “do not read” repeatedly. The writer also said the letter was “not a joke,” Mariacher said.
• On March 2, two children’s books by black authors — “Ghost” by Jason Reynolds and “Black Brother, Black Brother” by Jewell Parker Rhodes — were on display for Black History Month. They were removed from their respective shelves and later found behind the piles of children’s fiction.
• On March 10, “The Bare Naked Book,” a picture book written for preschoolers and their families with body parts listed, was pulled from a new book shelf and hidden behind the section Children’s Nonfiction.
“At its core, the ability to freely exchange ideas is a hallmark of a healthy democracy and community,” said Brittany Reno, Mayor of Sharpsburg and a member of the library’s board of trustees. “The unique experiences of Black people, women and LGBTQ+ people deserve to be represented in reading materials accessible to members of our community. Regardless of the viewpoints taken in the works, I strongly condemn efforts to censor literature and encourage members of the community to use the conversation to speak out about their concerns about children’s books that represent the breadth of diverse life experiences.
Anyone with information about these incidents can contact Sharpsburg Police at 412-781-0546 or the library at 412-781-0783.
Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .