OKEECHOBEE – The Okeechobee County Library is celebrating Freedom to Read in October, including a display of books that have been banned elsewhere, for some puzzling reasons.
One example: “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” was accused of promoting childhood obesity, explained Library Director Kresta King. The children’s book teaches numbers, colors and sequences, she explained. In addition, all the foods shown in the book are healthy food choices, she added.
King said book bans have schools and libraries concerned. The library welcomes visits from school groups, and in past years, had a tradition of giving each child a book to take home. This year, when a visit by a group of fourth graders was scheduled, the principal required the library provide a list of the books that would be given away. “I can’t blame the principal,” she said. The restrictions on reading material are coming from the state level.
King said in Okeechobee County, in order for any child to check out an item from the library, they must have a library card, and a child cannot obtain a library card without a parent.
The parents are responsible for what their children read, she said. “Our parents in Okeechobee are awesome.”
King said studies have found that suicide levels among teens are reduced by libraries providing materials at appropriate grade levels. According to the American Library Association, books that tackle challenging themes help children from marginalized backgrounds understand their history.
“If someone wants to read and loves to read, we want to provide it for them,” said King. “We believe that a person should not be judged by what they pick up to read.”
Since both money to purchase books and space in the library are limited, King said they are careful in choosing books for the library. “It means we try to get the best possible book for that subject matter,” she explained. They also make books available to as many people as possible. “For example, if I only have money for one copy of a book, I buy that copy in large print. Anyone can read a large print book.”
The Okeechobee library is part of the Heartland Library Cooperative. If the library doesn’t have the book they want, patrons can order books through the Heartland Library system and pick them up at the Okeechobee library. Those books are kept at the counter for pickup. If the person does not want to come into the library building, arrangements are made so the books can be picked up via a drive-through.
The only other books held behind the desk are the GED and SAT preparation books. Those have the “tendency to disappear,” if left on the shelves, King said.
King said the library enjoys support from local officials. She pointed with pride to a framed copy of the 2023 proclamation from the Okeechobee County Commission which states:
“Today’s libraries are not just about books, but what they do for and with people; and libraries of all types are at the heart of cities, towns, schools and campuses.
“Libraries have long served as trusted and treasured institutions where people of all backgrounds can be together and connect, building strong communities through transformative services, programs and expertise.
“Libraries, which promote the free exchange of information and ideas for all, are cornerstones of democracy, and promote civic engagement by keeping people informed and aware of community events and issues.
“Librarians and library workers partner with other civic organizations to make sure their community’s needs are being met, and they empower their communities to make informed decisions by providing free access to information.
“Libraries are a resource for all members of the community, regardless of race, ethnicity, creed, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity or socio-economic status, by offering services and educational resources that transform lives and strengthen communities.”