PEN America continues to do important work gathering and getting out information about the wave of book bans and legislation targeting schools and higher education. This week the organization released a new report stating that "educational censorship is continuing to spread across the country in 2023" with some 86 educational gag orders have introduced as of February 14 of this year.
"There has been a large increase in clones of Florida’s 'Don’t Say Gay' law, a slight decrease in 'divisive concepts' bills, and overall a similar number of bills introduced this year compared with 2022," the report states. "Many of these bills follow templates established in prior sessions, but some reflect novel proposals to bring censorship to new extremes." While PEN officials say it is too early to know which proposals will advance, the report offers an excellent recap of the action in state legislatures so far, with detailed information on many of these bills available in PEN America’s Index of Educational Gag Orders, which is updated weekly.
Of note, the report also points out that some of these legislative efforts are growing "more extreme" with some based on absurd conspiracy theories. For example, North Dakota’s HB 1522 would bar public and private schools from adopting any policy that "caters to a student’s perception of being any animal species other than human," the report notes, "a reference to the urban myth, popular along the political fringe and embraced by Representative Lauren Boebert (R-CO), that schools are providing litter boxes for students who believe that they are cats."
A reminder that EveryLibrary also maintains an excellent database of "Legislation of Concern."
And, of course, Kelly Jensen at Book Riot publishes the gold standard of weekly roundups about book banning and censorship news every Friday. This week Jensen begins with some cogent advice on how to talk to others about book bans. Hint: learn to embrace the discomfort. "Whether you’re a book lover or parent who is sharing stories or work in libraries or schools where your patrons and parents may not understand the scope of censorship right now, doing the work means getting uncomfortable," Jensen writes. "It means 'getting political.' It means not taking neutrality as a stance. It means really learning how to talk about book bans."
We reported earlier this year on the rising number of states seeking to remove legal protections for libraries and educators. The list continues to grow. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that several Republican leaders in Georgia "are backing legislation that would criminalize school librarians" who let students check out books deemed obscene. "State law currently shields the gatekeepers at public libraries—plus those at any school, college or university—from criminal prosecution for sharing materials considered irredeemably sexually explicit. Senate Bill 154 by Sen. Greg Dolezal, R-Alpharetta, would remove school librarians from that exemption.”
And the Idaho Statesman is reported this week that a newly introduced bill in Idaho "would allow parents to sue schools and libraries if employees gave their child 'harmful' material or if the institution failed to take 'reasonable steps to restrict access to 'harmful' materials for minors."
Also in Idaho, the local KTVB7 station reports that Ada County Idaho Commissioners are now in possession of a petition to dissolve the Meridian Library District. "A group called The Concerned Citizens of Meridian accuses the Meridian Library District of allowing materials in their libraries targeted towards sexualizing minors and providing facilities for sexual indoctrination of minors," the report states. Meridian Library Board of Trustees Chair Megan Larsen told the station said she believes the petition represents "a vocal minority" of the community.
From Texas Monthly, Mimi Swartz offers a long, chilling look at the politically-driven surge in book bans in Texas: "A school superintendent in Granbury, southwest of Fort Worth, told a group of librarians that if they aren’t conservatives, they’d “better hide it.” In the Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, northwest of Houston, three trusted incumbent school board members lost their elections, largely over their support for a resolution condemning racism. Other long-serving school board members throughout Texas have suddenly found themselves having to defend teachers who have been labeled, without a shred of evidence, as pedophiles or “groomers.” A Grapevine high school imposed new rules that led to a student walkout, with students calling the rules transphobic. Texas recently took the national lead in book banning (a frequent target is The Bluest Eye, by Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison), and some school librarians who tried to hold the line against unwarranted censorship became targets of death threats."
In Florida, the DeSantis administration's attempts to coerce changes to the College Board's A.P. African American studies course remain in the headlines. The Tampa Bay Times reports on a major protest in protest in Tallahassee this week. "Many protesters wielded signs that read, 'Black history is American history,' 'The new racism is denying that racism exists,' and 'You can’t erase what we learn,'" the report states. “We are not going to let you determine how our story gets told,” said Bishop Rudolph W. McKissack Jr., senior pastor of the Bethel Church in Jacksonville."
According to local station WESH2, DeSantis is now suggesting he just may do away with all A.P courses in the state.
In Orem, Utah, the Daily Herald reported this week that a number of groups are demanding that the Orem City Council back off its actions to pressure the library to "restrict displays related to heritage and diversity months."
The report includes a powerful statement from the Utah Library Association: "The public library exists to serve ALL people, and, as an institution, the library is both a legal and a symbolic embodiment of the fundamental American value that we all have the right to self-direct, think for ourselves, read, learn, and engage with ideas and information without government interference," the statement reads. "When politicians overstep and impose their personal beliefs, issue directives outside the legal framework of open public meetings, and back up their illicit directives with implicit or explicit threats of defunding or staff reprisal, they are behaving in an illegitimate manner inconsistent with good government and the public interest."
In Lafayette, Lousiana, the independent website Unfiltered with Kiran reports that a local councilman paid a private investigator with his own money to hack through safeguards and access pornogrpahy on library computers in an effort prove the library was not doing enough to keep kids safe. The director of the Livingston Parish Library has denounced the effort as a “willful violation” of policy.
PrideSource talked with a number of queer librarians in Michigan about the current wave of book bans. "It can be very easy to read all of this news and feel very scared and very hopeless. And I don’t want to downplay that fear. I feel scared too," one librarian said. "But certainly, from the work that I am doing, and the colleagues that I have, the community support that I am seeing, there’s a lot of very stubborn, very angry queer librarians who are going to keep these books on shelves.”
Get ready: registration is now open for the 2023 American Library Association Annual Conference, set for the ALA's hometown of Chicago.
And to close on a positive note: On Valentine's day, Elisabeth Egan and Erica Ackerberg published a photo essay billed as a "love letter" to libraries for the New York Times. But it's the photos that really tell the story.
"It’s easy to romanticize libraries. But, the fact is, they’re not 'just' about the written word. Were they ever? As local safety nets shriveled, the library roof magically expanded from umbrella to tarp to circus tent to airplane hangar. The modern library keeps its citizens warm, safe, healthy, entertained, educated, hydrated and, above all, connected."
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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