The March/April issue of American Libraries marks a milestone: "This March marks three years since COVID-19 brought the country to a standstill. While the pandemic is still ongoing—tens of thousands of cases continue to be recorded daily in the US—the effects it has had on our everyday lives, and our libraries, have abated and become somewhat normalized." The issue offers "a brief look at the choices and challenges the profession faced, as well as the resilience and dedication of its workers."
Of course, one of the many challenges ALA faced in the first two years of the pandemic was the cancellation of in-person conferences. But after last year's successful annual conference in Washington, D.C., and the first in-person LibLearnX in New Orleans this past January, hopes are high that the ALA 2023 Annual Conference & Exhibition, set for June in the ALA's hometown of Chicago, can get back to pre-pandemic levels. Registration is now open. And this week ALA president Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada sent a message to potential attendees announcing that the 2023 annual conference will be dedicated to library workers. "It has been a challenging year: Many of us are facing book bans and challenges for daring to share diverse stories, while also dealing with the difficulties of the ongoing pandemic. But where there is darkness, there is also light," she writes, sharing a preview of the conference's education program.
Challenging, indeed. From the Washington Post this week, a look this week at the fear librarians are feeling having been pulled by the right wing into a culture war. "In Idaho, a librarian resigned last fall after a bullying campaign that included armed men standing in the back of board meetings. At a public library in East Texas, according to news reports and the state library association, an alarmed patron recorded video of a uniformed officer behind the circulation desk sorting through frequently challenged books. A librarian in Louisiana who received a death threat after opposing censorship said she installed a home-security system, bought a Taser and sleeps 'with a shotgun under my bed,'" the article notes. "You would never think that something like that would happen in the United States, but it is, it has, and it’s here," said Shirley Robinson, the executive director of the Texas Library Association.
PBS Newshour has a similar report focused on Louisiana. "Typically quiet libraries and board meetings have been transformed into anxiety-filled spaces in several parishes of the state," reports Roby Chavez.
From the Tampa Bay Times, a Hillsborough County commissioner pushing for "parental control" of school and library resources is calling for the county’s libraries to cut ties with with the American Library Association, calling it an activist organization that has "clearly gone radical.” The call comes a week after a commissioner in Manatee County also targeted ALA over its defense of the freedom to read.
In Virginia, the Capital News Service reports that a bill that would have required librarians and schools to catalog materials with "visual depictions of graphic sexual content" failed to get out of committee in the Senate. House Bill 1379, introduced by Virginia Beach delegate Timothy Anderson, "died on a 9-6 vote in the Senate Education and Health committee." Anderson was the lawyer who, in a case that drew national attention last year, argued that that two books (the graphic memoir Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe and A Court of Mist and Fury by bestselling author Sarah J. Maas) should be removed from library and bookstore shelves under an obscure state obscenity law. In August, 2022, a state judge dismissed the suit and declared the state law unconstitutional.
Idaho EdNews reports that two controversial library bills have stalled in committee after a "heated" debate this week. "House Bill 139 bans 'harmful materials' from libraries and imposes fines on libraries that violate the ban. House Bill 227 requires libraries to implement policies for selecting and removing materials, and for parents to question materials or restrict their child’s access," the report notes. "After a winding discussion, committee members voted 9-8 to hold HB139, and adjourned Wednesday before voting on HB227. Committee Chair Julie Yamamoto, R-Caldwell, told EdNews she doesn’t know when, or if, the bills will come back for further discussion." Smart money says the bills will be back.
In Maine, the local Press Herald, reports on how school librarians are joining the fight against a proposal in the Maine Legislature that would ban schools from providing access to materials deemed obscene. One librarian told reporters that "the political environment" is making it harder for librarians to "connect students with content that can help them learn about themselves, process their experiences, and understand the world around them," adding that there is "a lot of fear and a lot of worry" among school librarians. "It’s definitely been stressful.”
In Indiana, local station WNDU reports that the Indiana Senate this week passed by a 37-12 margin a bill this week that would ban "inappropriate" books from K-12 school libraries and open up educators and librarians to criminal prosecution. Of course, no one knows how "inappropriate" material is defined. "If I’m a parent with a lot of time on my hands and I’ve got a political axe to grind, you know, I stand against any, any book that has [been] written by somebody that supports the opposing party or supports a cause that I don’t believe in, what’s to stop me from filing every single complaint I can?" one senator asked. The bill now heads to the House.
Ars Technica reports on a new bill in Texas that would force Internet service providers to block websites containing information on how to obtain abortion services: "The abortion bill would raise concerns about the government deciding which websites people may visit, particularly as federal net neutrality rules were eliminated by the Trump-era Federal Communications Commission."
From the St. Paul Star Tribune, Jennifer Brooks writes about the St. Paul Public Library's Read Brave program, which selects and highlights books that deal with topics including "trauma, anxiety, depression, [and] bullying," hosting two weeks of programs, author talks, and discussions. "We really see this program as an opportunity to share different lived experiences and build empathy for others," Gao Yang, the library's community partnerships and programs coordinator, told Brooks.
From local station KVRR in North Dakota, where two bills that would ban so-called sexually explicit materials from public libraries are poised to become law, library workers from Fargo’s three public libraries have created displays to show which books could no longer be offered. "Signs on book carts say 'Read ’em before they’re gone,'" the report notes, with titles including classics like The Grapes of Wrath and popular fiction like Where The Crawdads Sing. “If we choose to live in a free and open society, we have to know that all of us will run into things that we don’t agree with and we find offensive,” Fargo Public Library director Tim Dirks told reporters.
A fiery column this week from Kelly Jensen at Book Riot, whose must-read weekly roundup of censorship new warns against the exhaustion that inevitably comes in the midst of a long fight, and urges allies and freedom to read advocates to step up their efforts. "Mealy mouthed neutrality is what the censors want," Jensen writes. "Solutions are only lacking if you’re not looking, and the only looking that seems to be happening is at money. Not people."
And news this week that Connecticut has updated its proposed library e-book bill, RB6800. Among the new bill's provisions, it states that "no contract or license agreement between any publisher and any library in this state shall preclude, limit, or restrict the library from performing customary operational or lending functions." And, in language not seen before, the bill appears to restrict the use of time-limited licenses, unless the publisher also offers a pay-per-view option or a perpetual access model on "reasonable terms."
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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