Free speech and library advocates are sounding the alarm this week over a bill proposed in Missouri that seeks to establish “parental library review boards” as a condition of state funding, with the boards having the power to decide which “age-appropriate" materials can be accessible to minors within the library. And librarians who refuse to comply with the board’s decisions? They would be subject to a fine, and up to a year in prison.
In a statement, James Tager, Deputy Director of Free Expression Research and Policy at PEN America called the bill a “shockingly transparent attempt to legalize book banning” in the state of Missouri. “Every reader and writer in the country should be horrified, absolutely horrified, at this bill. The fact that a librarian could actually be imprisoned under this act for following his or her conscience and refusing to block minors from access to a book, that tells you all you need to know about the suitability of this act within a democratic society.”
Specifically, among its provisions House Bill 2044, the Parental Oversight Of Public Libraries Act (or POOPLA, as one sharp-eyed commenter calls it) introduced by representative Ben Baker, would establish five-member boards, elected by a majority vote at local town meetings, that would be empowered to determine what materials are appropriate for minors in the library. Notably, public librarians are explicitly barred from serving on such review boards—even if they live in the community.
“The main thing is I want to be able to take my kids to a library and make sure they’re in a safe environment, and that they’re not gonna be exposed to something that is objectionable material,” Baker told local KOAM News. “Unfortunately, there are some libraries in the state of Missouri that have done this. And that’s a problem.”
Tager, and other free speech advocates, see things differently. “This act is clearly aimed at empowering small groups of parents to appoint themselves as censors over their state’s public libraries,” he observed.
The bill, as expected, has drawn swift condemnation from the library community. “Missouri House Bill 2044 clearly proposes policies and procedures that threaten library users’ freedom to read and violate our deeply held commitment to families’ and individuals’ intellectual freedom, as expressed in ALA’s Library Bill of Rights,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom, in a statement issued Thursday, adding that ALA is working with the Missouri Library Association.
In a statement, Missouri Library Association President Cynthia Dudenhoffer said the Missouri librarians were aware of the bill, and engaged. "The Missouri Library Association will always stand against censorship and for the freedom to read, and therefore opposes Missouri House Bill 2044," the statement reads. "Public libraries already have procedures in place to assist patrons in protecting their own children while not infringing upon the rights of other patrons or restricting materials. Missouri Library Association will always oppose legislation that infringes on these rights."
In a release this week, public library political action committee EveryLibrary said the bill is “one of the most egregious we’ve ever seen” and is “patently unconstitutional.” Everylibrary is also working to organize opposition, and is circulating an online petition.
“The very idea of throwing librarians in jail or fining them if a child sees something that is deemed inappropriate by a ‘panel’ is troubling, and offensive,” EveryLibrary states. "It's a bad bill and needs to be stopped. Librarians help parents with the skills and information to make good decisions for their own families. Parents should be empowered to make those decisions and libraries should not live in fear of doing their jobs.”
At BookRiot, Kelly Jensen observes that board members overseeing what public libraries can make available will be selected not based on experience or merit, "but rather, on the ability to show up to a meeting and garner majority support," which means "small groups of vocal opponents" will be in a position to make "critical decisions about library materials."
The American Library Association this week, after a lengthy national search, has hired a new executive director. ALA named Tracie D. Hall to the post, beginning February 24. American Libraries has a really great "get-to-know-you" Q&A with Hall. Among Hall's priorities, growing the ALA's reach. "ALA is either the fifth or sixth largest trade association in the country, but our membership and partnerships reflect only a fraction of those engaged in or stewarding the work of library and information services," says says. "Reaching a broader base is key."
Are library boycotts of Macmillan e-books, organized in response to the publisher's controversial embargo on new release e-books in libraries, having an impact? Via the ReadersFirst blog, an interesting analysis of the boycott from two librarians whose systems have ceased to purchase Macmillan e-books.
As of now, "79 library systems and consortia have ceased to purchase Macmillan e-books, representing 1,163 locations in 28 states, and serving 47.9 million people." And, the authors write, the math suggests the boycott is having an impact.
"If about one in 10 library systems cease to purchase Macmillan e-books, they will offset the gains Macmillan hoped to make and ensure that its revenue is flat. For every library that boycotts after that, Macmillan will see a net loss on the embargo strategy." As of now, the boycotts have not yet been adopted by one in 10 libraries. But it's getting close.
"In our opinion, a national outcry from a valuable customer is reason enough for Macmillan to drop the embargo. However, [Macmillan] appears willing to gamble that despite libraries’ frustrations, we will continue to pay the bills. The boycotting libraries have said no, and we invite other libraries to join us. Collectively, we can ensure that embargoes are too expensive for any publisher to implement."
The American Library Association Midwinter Meeting gets underway next week. You can check out Publishers Weekly's main speaker program preview here. And check out PW contributing editor Brian Kenney's panel picks, too.
NPR reports on The New York Public Library's list of most checked-out books of all time. Given today's headlines, number 7 on the list especially relevant.
This one has been making the rounds, and is well worth a read: Slate has a fascinating look the children's librarian who kept Goodnight Moon out of the New York Public Library.
What a nightmare: via the local ABC affiliate, a report on how librarians at the Columbus Metropolitan Library have been hit with a massive data breach.
Smithsonian reports on the resolution of a major librarian crime spree. "Between 1992 and 2017, archivist Greg Priore smuggled some 300 documents worth more than $8 million out of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, where he served as sole manager of the rare books room. As Paula Reed Ward reports for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Priore hid illustrated pages or plates in manila envelopes, rolled up larger items, or simply carried books out of the library. He then delivered the items to bookseller John Schulman, who subsequently re-sold them to unsuspecting clients."
And finally, some good news to close, from Publishers Weekly. We have to shout out the great Jason Reynolds, who on Thursday was sworn in as the next National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, taking the reins from Jacqueline Woodson, who has served in the post since 2018.
Reynolds plans to focus on empowering young people in small-town America with a platform he is calling “Grab the Mic: Tell Your Story.” Reynolds is a perfect choice, which he made clear in his great opening keynote at the 2019 ALA Annual Conference.
EDITOR'S NOTE: With a heavy travel schedule (including PLA and ALA) The Week in Libraries column is taking a brief hiatus. PW's Preview for Librarians will continue to be delivered as scheduled.
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