Ahead of the first in-person LibLearnX meeting (which opens today in New Orleans), good news for the American Library Association this week, which announced a "transformational" $5.515 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation "to help ALA advance its mission of enhancing the profession of librarianship and ensuring access to information for all." ALA officials said the grant is the foundation's most significant investment in ALA ever.
“At a time when libraries and librarians are facing immense pressure and scrutiny, it is affirming and deeply meaningful to have the support of community champions like the Mellon Foundation, who understand our plight and are willing to invest in our mission,” said ALA President Lessa Pelayo-Lozada, in a statement. “This transformational gift will enable ALA to expand its existing programs and establish new initiatives to better serve librarians and communities across the nation.”
ALA officials said the funds will support several programs and initiatives including "advocacy for intellectual freedom and countering censorship and book bans, scholarships and career development support for Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) librarians, scaling adult and digital literacy instruction, the continuation of COVID-19 relief funding, organizational capacity building in libraries, and more."
Gary Price at LJ's InfoDocket reports that the Library Freedom Project, an organization of library workers committed to digital privacy rights, has also received a $1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to "advance critical privacy and democracy" training. “At a time when libraries are facing hyper-partisan attacks on our foundational values, librarians need to be able to connect and strategize with fellow workers in a supportive environment. We couldn’t be more excited to create these spaces,” said Library Freedom Project director Alison Macrina.
In Florida, independent journalist Judd Legum at Popular Information wrote about educators in Florida who are now grappling with the fallout of new "parental rights" legislation. "Teachers in Manatee County, Florida, are being told to make their classroom libraries—and any other 'unvetted' books—inaccessible to students, or risk felony prosecution," Legum writes. "In response to the policy, some teachers packed up their classroom libraries. Others covered up the books students are no longer allowed to read with construction paper."
The news comes after new "training" for librarians was approved by the Florida Department of Education late last week. Under the state's new laws, school librarians and teachers face potential felony charges for making "inappropriate" books available to students. Legum's report was picked up by news organizations across the nation, and his Twitter thread on the report has racked up more than 10 million views as of this writing.
At Salon, Senior Writer Amanda Marcotte (citing Legum's reporting) has a strong take on what's happening in Florida (and elsewhere). "The language of 'vetting' and whatnot is put in place by DeSantis and his allies to create...a misleading debate about the nature of censorship," Marcotte writes. "Book ban supporters can claim they're not banning books because, in theory, books can be 'vetted' and restored to the shelves. Of course, this is how all book bans throughout time have worked. They rarely, if ever, cover all the books all the time. But even when books are finally released to potential readers under a 'ban first, ask questions later' system, the message is sent: Books are presumed inherently dangerous. Instead of being glad that a child is reading a book, the system treats every child with a book as suspicious. Policies like this have a ripple effect, recasting reading not as a social good but a threat to be strictly regulated."
Over at Book Riot, Kelly Jensen leads off her weekly roundup of the week's censorship news with an open letter to Stephen King, explaining why a recent tweet from the mega-bestselling author (ostensibly in defense of the freedom to read) actually did more harm than good.
In one Texas school district, books no longer have to be read to be banned. According to a report in the Dallas Morning News school board trustees in McKinney ISD unanimously voted to change its book policy. "Instead of evaluators needing to read an entire book, they may now read only passages under question," the report notes.
Another story this week, this one from the Washington Post, about the the chilling effect book bans and new "parental rights" laws are having on new book purchases. "Conversations with 37 school librarians across 21 states suggest they are facing heightened scrutiny and a thicket of red tape— where before they had wide latitude to choose the books they thought would best supplement the curriculum and stimulate students’ literary appetites," the report notes. In the piece, Steve Potash, CEO of OverDrive, the largest distributor of digital books to schools and libraries, suggests that the bans have cost "millions of dollars" in sales in 2022. “It’s troubling," Potash told the Post. "It’s impacted not only our business, but the authors and the readers and the students.”
Meanwhile, OverDrive this week reported that public libraries recently surpassed one billion digital lends via OverDrive's Libby app. "The one billionth checkout in Libby occurred on January 21 through a member public library of the Arkansas Digital Library Consortium. The title, An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena, a murder mystery released in 2018, reinforces the growing reality that readers of all ages use their local library to enjoy digital books of all genres, in addition to the most popular and trending new releases."
In Horry County, South Carolina, ABC15 reports that "librarians, educators, and Horry County parents" are pushing back against a list of 77 books that right wing group Moms for Liberty is demanding be removed from library shelves. "If you remove a book like All Boys Aren't Blue, you are telling students in our schools in the LGBTQ community that they are somehow inappropriate," said one retired teacher at a board meeting.
The National Coalition Against Censorship has released a new resource offering "practical advice for authors" whose books are being challenged and banned in schools and libraries. "Because book challenges can happen anytime and seemingly for any reason, NCAC’s Arts & Culture Advocacy Program (ACAP) solicited advice from authors whose books have been attacked, including Jonathan Evison (Lawn Boy), Frederick Joseph (The Black Friend), Jo Knowles (Pearl), Susan Kuklin (Beyond Magenta), Meg Medina (Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass), and Lesléa Newman (Heather Has Two Mommies)."
From EveryLibrary, a post about a massive "Read-In" at the Utah State Capitol this week in support of the freedom to read. "The event was organized by Let Utah Read, a new coalition of pro-library, pro first amendment groups including EveryLibrary, PEN America Utah Chapter, Utah Library Association, and the ACLU of Utah, and was managed through EveryLibrary's new Fight for the First platform."
The Guardian has a short piece on unsheltered library patrons.
At LitHub, novelist Kathryn Ma has a sweet remembrance of her librarian mother.
And finally this week, two more states have introduced new library e-book bills. On January 20, Massachusetts introduced its new library e-book bill, which is significantly different than the Maryland law struck down by a federal court last year. The Massachusetts bill offers a more pronounced consumer protection focus: it does not require publishers to offer licenses, but regulates what restrictions those licenses may contain.
In addition, Virginia lawmakers introduced a similar library e-book bill in the Virginia Senate. Following Rhode Island, that makes three new bills in the opening weeks of 2023.
The Week in Libraries is a weekly opinion and news column. News, tips, submissions, questions or comments are welcome, and can be submitted via email.