The 2024 federal budget process kicked off with the March 9 release of the Biden Administration's $6.8 trillion budget blueprint. And with federal library funding hanging in the balance, this year's budget negotiation is set up to be a tough one. In a release this week, the American Library Association urged members and library supporters to ask their representatives to sign "Dear Appropriator" letters in support of critical library programs, including the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) and the Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL) program. And with an abbreviated process this year, the House deadline for signatures is already upon us: March 20.
Thankfully, the team at ALA makes supporting libraries easy. Just go to the ALA's #FundLibraries action center, where you can quickly add your information and with a few clicks contact your reps about the Dear Appropriator letters. It takes about a minute. There are also a host of resources you can tap for your advocacy work. You can also track whether your representative has signed the letters here (and when they do sign, don't forget to write again to say thanks). And be sure to share a little about the good work your library does in your community.
In American Libraries, ALA President Lessa Kanani'opua Pelayo-Lozada writes about this year's budget process, including a report on "a strategic fly-in" organized by ALA just ahead of the Biden Administration's budget release. Some 97 library advocates (including 24 state librarians) traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with legislators and their staffs about library funding.
Did I say it's been a challenging time for libraries? From Bridge Michigan, news that a Lapeer County prosecutor is mulling criminal charges against "employees or officials" of the Lapeer District Library if Maia Kobabe's Gender Queer: A Memoir is not pulled from library shelves. According to the report, the prosecutor suggested the book's presence in the library might violate criminal code 750.145a, a charge "often associated with police sting operations of adults who prey on minors." Library director Amy Churchill accused the prosecutor of trying to intimidate librarians, and sounded a defiant note in response. "I am not hard to find,” Churchill told reporters. “If [the prosecutor] wishes to arrest me, I am in my office working for the patrons and staff of the Lapeer District Library Monday through Friday.”
From local Little Rock NPR affiliate KUAR, news that Senate Bill 81 has passed the Arkansas House. The bill, which overcame a brief legislative hurdle earlier this month, would expose librarians to criminal prosecution for furnishing books deemed to be obscene. "The bill passed on a vote of 56 to 25 with eight lawmakers voting present," the article notes. "It’s the bill’s final hurdle before being sent back to the Senate, then to Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders to be signed into law."
Louisiana librarian Amanda Jones announced this week that she has filed an appeal seeking to reinstate a defamation lawsuit against men who accused her online of seeking to sexualize children after she spoke in favor of keeping challenged books on the shelves of her local library. "I am committed to going the distance and fighting for my right to a fair trial against those who have sought to destroy my good name," Jones wrote this week on her website. "I will update court procedures as they happen in the upcoming year, and give periodic updates on how I am helping in the fight against anti-library/pro-censorship legislation in our state. To everyone fighting in their own states, I hope you keep up the good fight! You are not alone, and there are thousands of us waking up each day to fight for the rights of our students and our communities."
From the Idaho Press, a petition to shut down the Meridian Library doesn't appear to have a lot of support, but library leaders warn that the results would be devastating if it manages to pass. The library "would be completely dissolved, all assets would be liquidated and if there was a new petition to restart, a library would have to be restarted from scratch," library director Nick Grove notes.
The New York Times reports on how conservative groups, empowered by the DeSantis administration, are seeking to change social studies textbooks used in Florida schools. The article notes that one group that "has helped lead a sweeping effort to remove school library books deemed as inappropriate, including many with LGBTQ characters," has reportedly recommended the state "reject 28 of the 38 textbooks that its volunteers reviewed," including "more than a dozen" by one of the nation's largest educational publishers, McGraw Hill. "In a summary of its findings submitted to the state last month, the group complained that a McGraw Hill fifth-grade textbook, for example, mentioned slavery 189 times within a few chapters alone," the Times reports. "Another objection: An eighth-grade book gave outsize attention to the 'negative side' of the treatment of Native Americans, while failing to give a fuller account of their own acts of violence, such as the Jamestown Massacre of 1622, in which Powhatan warriors killed more than 300 English colonists."
Meanwhile, Politico reports that Florida is still barred from enforcing the state's so-called “Stop-WOKE” law after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal judge's injunction from last year. "Inspired by DeSantis, [the law] takes aim at lessons over issues like 'white privilege' by creating new protections for students and workers, including that a person should not be instructed to 'feel guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress' due to their race, color, sex or national origin," the article notes. Last year, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker said the law was "positively dystopian" and blocked its enforcement.
Over at Book Riot, Kelly Jensen opens her must-read weekly censorship news column by asking a fresh new voice to weigh in on the question of book banning in libraries: ChatGPT. "With the fervor over AI and how ChatGPT will inevitable change English classes—and nary a word from said author of that piece on the scores of books being removed from those classes—it seemed only right to experiment with the tool. How easily could it parrot the talking points of 'parental rights' activists?" Jensen writes. "I asked several questions pulling the talking points from the above group playbooks and each time, ChatGPT better articulated why access to books are a right (and, frankly, does it better than the Big Name White Authors who are doing more harm right now than good)."
In the New Republic, Melissa Gira Grant has a long, well-written look at the right-wing attack on the freedom to read. "While only a minority of the public may be behind renewed book-banning efforts, that small group has an outsize voice in our politics and, as a result, in what books are available at schools and libraries," Grant writes. "These people are the ones most likely to attend a library board meeting to shout their objections, driving this nationwide book-banning campaign. The same books are challenged from place to place, with queer and trans subjects—particularly those by queer and trans authors of color—dominating the list of most-challenged books. The same rationale for the bans repeats across the country: protecting the innocence of children."
In the Atlantic, author Xochitl Gonzalez spent some time with librarians (including at the New York Library Association conference) and writes about the challenges they are facing. "They told me about getting hate mail and harassing phone calls on their private lines, about being verbally attacked while on the job over things as seemingly banal as book displays," Gonzalez writes. "What seemed most painful to the librarians I spoke with—even more than the personal attacks and fear of litigation—was the way in which book bans hinder their ability to connect their patrons to information that might help them." (Note: this article is currently paywalled.)
The Huffington Post reports that New York attorney general Letitia James is hosting a four-hour drag story read-a-thon in Manhattan's West Village neighborhood this weekend, sponsored by the New York, Queens, and Brooklyn public libraries in conjunction with Drag Story Hour NYC.
Earlier this month, lawmakers in Connecticut held hearings on the state's new library e-book bills HB 6800 and HB 6829 (although the bills appear to be identical). The testimony for and against is now posted and is well worth checking out: The testimony dated March 10 is here. The testimony dated March 6 is here. And via the Connecticut Library Association, testimony in support of the bill is available here to read and watch.
Meanwhile, Michael Blackwell at ReadersFirst offered his quick take on the new Connecticut library e-book bill, noting its difference from the Maryland law struck down by a federal judge last year.
And finally this week, with all the thorny questions involving the impact of AI and ChatGPT, a report in the Federal Register from the Copyright Office this week attempted to put one issue to rest: machine-generated works don't qualify for copyright protection. "If a work's traditional elements of authorship were produced by a machine, the work lacks human authorship and the Office will not register it."
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. Previous columns can be viewed here.