From the Denver Post, some good news to start this week's column: The Colorado Civil Rights Division has ruled that the High Plains Library District illegally fired librarian Brooky Parks in December 2021 after Parks pushed back on orders to cancel programs she'd developed for teens, including an antiracism workshop and a program on LGBTQ history. The state found that the dismissal violated state prohibitions on discriminatory firing and retaliation. "'The finding is significant as it’s among the first in the country by a state government that concluded censorship targeted at LGBTQ youth or youth of color is a violation of anti-discrimination laws,' said Iris Halpern, the attorney representing fired librarian Brooky Parks," the Post reports.
The actions of the College Board in revising its African American studies Advanced Placement course are under growing scrutiny after a letter surfaced this week showing "repeated" contact between the College Board and Florida state officials over the content of the course. "The discussions between the College Board and the state took place as right-wing activists across the country were increasingly taking aim at school lessons that emphasize race and racism in America," observes the New York Times, which points out Florida governor Governor Ron DeSantis's "presidential ambitions" and his efforts "to cast himself as the voice of parents who are fed up with what he has called 'woke indoctrination' from progressive educators."
In a statement to the Times, legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, one of a number of scholars whose work has been targeted by conservatives, articulates why the College Board's actions are causing alarm. “People need to pay very close attention to this story—not just Black studies educators and K-12 teachers, but everyone who worries that the slide to authoritarianism is real. This is how it happens,” Crenshaw states. "If a billion-dollar organization like the College Board will not stand up against the censorship of those who don’t toe their line, they signal that the values central to our multiracial democracy are soft and negotiable.”
Meanwhile, the American Council of Learned Societies this week issued a strong condemnation of another controversy threatening academic freedom in Florida: the DeSantis administration's "overhaul" of the progressive New College of Florida. "In recent years, we have seen politicians intensify their effort to re-brand institutions of higher education—specifically, the humanities, and social sciences—as hothouses of liberal indoctrination," the ACLS statement reads. "By ousting Dr. Patricia Okker, the president of New College of Florida, and by taking over the college’s Board of Trustees, they reveal themselves as would-be indoctrinators of views that undermine the purpose of higher education in a democracy. Other states are already pursuing similar efforts of intimidation and censorship."
In the publishing community, the Association of University Presses has signed on to the ALCS statement and this week issued a statement of its own: "We join ACLS in deploring recent government interventions in Florida and other states that seek to exert political control over higher education and the intellectual freedom of students, faculty, and citizens. We agree these attacks threaten public understanding of our nation’s history and culture, and they undermine key principles of academic freedom.”
For Vanity Fair, Kathryn Joyce puts it bluntly: "Ron DeSantis’s New College Takeover Is Just the Beginning of the Right’s Higher Ed Crusade."
CNN reports that these battles over the freedom to read will likely be key to the Republican party's 2024 presidential ambitions. "The Republican presidential hopefuls have begun casting themselves as impassioned defenders of 'parental rights,' turning schoolbooks and curricula, doctors’ offices, and sports leagues into a new political battleground as they work to distinguish themselves ahead of the 2024 GOP primary."
Former Trump press secretary and newly-elected Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders certainly appeared to confirm that with her State of the Union response this week, in which she highlighted her proposed conservative education reforms. If you missed it, you can check out the transcript, via Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell's office.
In the New Yorker, Charles Bethea offers his report on what's going on in Florida: "Brian Covey, an entrepreneur in his late thirties, came to pick up his daughter, who’s in second grade, and his son, who’s in fifth. His kids looked confused. 'Did you hear what happened at school today?' his daughter asked. 'They took all the books out of the classrooms.' Covey asked which books. 'All the books,' she said. Covey’s son had been reading Measuring Up, a coming-of-age story about an immigrant to the United States from Taiwan. Students who read from a list of pre-selected books, including this one, were rewarded with an ice-cream party. 'They even took that book,' Covey said."
Over at Salon, Amanda Marcotte writes about the the Manatee Patriots, which she calls "a volunteer army of wannabe censors" in Manatee County, Florida. The group gained national attention recently after they "put out a recruitment call for 'woke busters' to be the 'eyes and ears and boots on the ground in the schools' to stop educators from 'filling the libraries with these books,'" Marcotte writes.
The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) this week issued a letter demanding that officials in a western Michigan school district investigate whether the district's superintendent had secretly ordered the removal of books from library shelves, which is in violation of a policy that requires a formal review before a book is banned. “This is the kind of thing that is happening all over the country,” NCAC executive director Christopher Finan said, in a release. “School officials are violating their review policies and pulling books that have been carefully chosen by educators.”
From the local Spokesman-Review, politicians in Liberty Lake, Washington, outside Spokane, are reportedly looking to change the way their local library board operates after the board failed to acquiesce to a recent book-banning effort. "The proposal to limit the library board’s authority follows an unsuccessful citizen-led effort last spring to ban Gender Queer," the report states.
From the local Bucks County Beacon, in Pennsylvania, officials claim anti-LGBTQ sentiment played no role in cuts to the Indian Valley Public Library budget, but a sharp-eyed reporter has found evidence to the contrary.
At Book Riot, Kelly Jensen's must-read weekly censorship roundup includes an excellent template letter for writing to your legislators. "With the new legislative season in full swing, now is a crucial time to write to your representatives. We’re seeing unbelievable numbers of new proposals to outlaw intellectual freedom, to criminalize library workers and educators for providing queer and/or diverse literature to their communities, to ban drag shows (including drag storytimes), and to make being queer or a person of color even harder than it already is." In addition to the template, Jensen, ever the librarian, includes links to a few vital resources, including an online tool that looks up "everyone who works on your behalf simply by inputting your full address," and EveryLibrary's database of "every single bill of concern to the freedom to read."
Library Journal has released its 2022 Budgets and Funding Survey, an annual feature that offers a measure of the budget health of the nation's libraries. And 2022 was a very good year thanks to an outlay of federal funding related to the pandemic. "Top-level survey results show that budgets are up overall by 6.1% from 2021," states the report, which was written this year by EveryLibrary's John Chrastka. "Spending on materials increased by 5.1% and on personnel (including wages and benefits) by 6.4%. By comparison, the 10-year running average for materials increases was 2.6%." Covid-19 relief dollars from the CARES Act and ARPA "were important sources of new library funding in 2022," the report states.
Over at Vice, Claire Woodcock reports that researchers at the New York Public Library are finding that a significant number of books published before 1964 may be in the public domain. "The books in question were published between 1923 and 1964, before changes to U.S. copyright law removed the requirement for rights holders to renew their copyrights," the article explains. "According to Greg Cram, associate general counsel and director of information policy at NYPL, an initial overview of books published in that period shows that around 65% to 75% of rights holders opted not to renew their copyrights."
And in Hawaii, state legislators have introduced a new library e-book law. The bill would prohibit "any contract or license agreement between a publisher and library in the State from precluding, limiting, or otherwise restricting the library from performing customary operational and lending functions."
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.
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