He's looking more and more like a GOP presidential candidate every week. This week, Florida governor Ron DeSantis debuted at #1 on PW's bestseller list with his new book The Courage to Be Free: Florida's Blueprint for America's Revival. And ripping a page from the Trump playbook, DeSantis on Wednesday hosted a press conference where he said charges of book banning under his legislative agenda were a "nasty hoax."
Last month, the New York Times gave DeSantis's book a less than enthusiastic review. "For the most part, The Courage to Be Free is courageously free of anything that resembles charisma, or a discernible sense of humor," opines Jennifer Szalai. "While his first book was weird and esoteric enough to have obviously been written by a human, this one reads like a politician’s memoir churned out by ChatGPT." Closer to home, the Tampa Bay Times says the book offers a "glossy" view of the governor's career: "DeSantis doesn’t grant readers much more insight into his life than what he has so far shown publicly. But the book does leave behind the outline of a squeaky-clean conservative warrior."
Meanwhile, PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel had a harsh review of the governor's policies and his press conference. "If we take the Governor at his word that he is simply aiming to protect students from porn and sexualized texts, then the approaches and methods being legislated statewide go far beyond any conceivable effort in service of that goal," Nossel writes. "[Florida] has passed vague laws limiting what books can be in schools and libraries with stiff penalties. Every book in a school must be reviewed by a 'media specialist' and schools were told to 'err on the side of caution.' Thus the empty shelves. Have some schools been overly cautious? Quite possibly. But that is how censorship works—it sweeps up not just material directly banned but also exerts a well-documented 'chilling effect' whereby a wider circle of books and ideas are off limits to avoid risk of punishment."
In Iowa, the Gazette reports that the House has now passed a "parental rights" bill that would ban books containing sexual content from school libraries in the state. Republican legislators claim the bill "is not intended to restrict books dealing with LGBTQ characters," while freedom to read advocates say the bill is unnecessary "because processes already exist to review books in schools." Iowa is today's stop on DeSantis's campaign—err, book tour.
In Oklahoma, Tulsa World reports that the state Senate has passed Senate Bill 397. The bill would ban materials from school libraries that "the average person age 18 or older applying contemporary community standards" would find to have "a prominent tendency to appeal to a prurient interest in sex.”
Some good news for Freedom to Read advocates this week: the Utah 2023 Legislative session concluded on March 3rd without passage of two significant anti-library bills. "We’re happy to report that HB464 and HB138 didn’t make it across the finish line," reports EveryLibrary. HB464 proposed to create a rating system for books and civil penalties for librarians and educators that provide access to materials deemed inappropriate. HB138 would have allowed Utah schools to cancel contracts with publishers and vendors without penalty. The "combination of coalition work, public awareness building, and public activation helped ensure that these problematic bills for Utah libraries failed to gain the support they needed in the state legislature," EveryLibrary reports.
For a little background on the situation in Utah, Christie Porter has an informative piece in Salt Lake magazine. It’s "a small group of people who are behind it," Michele Edgley, president of the Utah Educational Library Media Association, told Porter, adding that "the accusations and the calls to the police come from parent interest groups who have strong beliefs about which books should not be available to students." Police?
Yes, police. For those who would have you believe that book banning and efforts to intimidate librarians are part of some media hoax, EveryLibrary this week also has a post pointing to some of the very real threats facing librarians. "There are too many recent examples of police being called out to libraries or schools across the country for us to not take this for what it is: a real threat to criminalize our profession."
It lives. In Arkansas, the Democrat Gazette reported this week that Senate Bill 81, which would make librarians criminally liable for distributing materials deemed obscene, had failed to advance. Among its provisions, the bill would have created a "furnishing harmful item to a minor" offense. "Under this provision, a person who knowingly provides a minor with an item that is 'harmful to minors' would be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor," the article notes. "The bill points to existing law that provides an extended definition of the term 'harmful to minors.' Among other characteristics, an item that is 'harmful to minors' must be found by an 'average' adult 'applying contemporary community standards' to have a 'predominant tendency to appeal to a prurient interest in sex' to minors.” However, the bill was quickly revived, amended, and returned to the committee where it has passed on to the full House on March 9.
Is this what going on the offensive might look like? The Herald Whig reports that Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias has drafted House Bill 2789, "which would make funds eligible to Illinois libraries only if they demonstrate they either: adhere to the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights indicating reading materials should not be removed or restricted because of partisan or personal disapproval; or issue a statement complying with the policies of the State Library or one prohibiting the practice of banning books or resources."
In Book Riot, Kelly Jensen's weekly roundup of censorship news includes a tremendously helpful list of truly grassroots freedom to read advocacy groups. "These are not funded by political groups or organizations and are not in the pockets of politicians," Jensen writes. "If you are in the position to get involved, do so; if you can’t, these are some places where you can also donate money to help the cause."
Also in Book Riot, Jensen has a long, investigative piece about the Elmwood Public Library board's efforts to change the library. "One glance at the questions and guidance developed for the director interview show precisely the type of candidate the Board sought to hire. Indeed, these questions include bullet points beneath them for the interviewers to check for. The ideal candidate would be neutral like Switzerland in all they offer and they would play second fiddle to the direction of the library board in all decision making," Jensen writes. "Indeed, the ideal candidate would not work to 'change the complexion' of the library but work to preserve neutrality—in other words, whiteness."
People profiles Texas librarians and #FReadom organizers Becky Calzada and Carolyn Foote. "Books shouldn't be contraband," Foote told people. "We've lost our way in this contentious environment. We forgot what's at the core of libraries: getting kids excited about reading and seeing stories that reflect their lives." The brief article notes that both women have faced online attacks, but their efforts have empowered freedom to read advocates to speak up. "It's not just adults—kids are speaking up about how books [on the banned lists] helped them," Calzada says.
C-SPAN's StudentCam is an annual national competition for student documentary filmmakers. For this year's competition, students in grades 6-12 were asked to create 5-6 minute films in response to this question: "If you were a newly elected member of Congress, which issue would be your first priority and why?" One group of students focused on book banning with their film "Ella Scott's Banned Book Club: How Students Are Fighting Back In the War Over Censorship and Ideas." It's very well done, well worth a share. And, if you're so inclined, you can vote in the competition.
SF Gate reports on pushback to U.C. Berkeley's recently-announced plan to close three campus libraries. "Three campus resources— the Anthropology Library, the Mathematics Statistics Library and the Physics-Astronomy Library—are set to merge their collections and staff with the campus’s hub libraries and close by 2025, per the UC Berkeley Library’s long-term space plan. The plan was released in February and outlines how the school will restructure its current libraries."
The Boston Globe reflects on "the culture war" targeting libraries. "Threats to public libraries are not new. But previous disputes were mostly budgetary, driven by small-government types who chafed at paying taxes for someone else’s reading pleasure," writes Renée Loth. "Now the attacks are ideological, as a toxic mix of anti-vaxxers, transphobic conspiracy theorists, and right-wing extremists have found common cause."
The race for the Republican presidential nomination will no doubt turn up the volume on book banning efforts nationwide. But USA Today reports that the right's efforts to stoke a culture war might not play at the national level. "Republican presidential hopefuls are vowing to wage a war on 'woke,' but a new USA TODAY/Ipsos Poll finds a majority of Americans are inclined to see the word as a positive attribute, not a negative one," the article states. "The findings raise questions about whether Republican campaign promises to ban policies at schools and workplaces they denounce as 'woke' could boost a contender in the party's primaries but put them at odds with broader public opinion in the general election."
And finally, the newly established Copyright Claims Board has issued it's first ruling. IP Watchdog reports that a photographer prevailed in the case over an unauthorized use of a photo on a commercial website. Rather than grant the plaintiff's request for a $30,000 statutory damage award, however, the CCB instead awarded the plaintiff $1,000. The voluntary tribunal (litigants can opt out of the process) is billed as a lower-cost venue for small copyright claims for which the cost of federal litigation might be prohibitive.
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