The politically motivated assault on the freedom to read under the guise of "parental rights" has reached Congress. As reported by CNN, the U.S. House of Representatives this morning passed H.R. 5, the so-called "Parents Bill of Rights Act," which critics insist would help facilitate book bans and threaten the freedom to read if it were to become law. Notably, however, the final vote was a bit closer than expected: 213 to 208, with five Republicans breaking ranks to vote against the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has called the measure "Orwellian" and vowed to block it from advancing in the Senate. But the CNN report appropriately points to the bill's political messaging. "Republicans across the country, arguing that discussions around race, gender identity, and sexuality are inappropriate for young children, have used the banner of 'parental rights' to push for a curtailment of such conversations in schools, even though opinions on the matter vary widely among parents," the article notes. "Critics have broadly argued Republicans have used the issue to turn the classroom into a battleground and advance a political agenda. LGBTQ rights advocates, in particular, have argued it is a conscious effort to stigmatize a vulnerable slice of American society."
The vote on H.R. 5 comes as ALA this week reported 1,269 attempted book bans in 2022, nearly double the record-shattering 729 challenges recorded in 2021. As reported in Publishers Weekly, the final 2022 numbers show a worrisome trajectory: By comparison, ALA tracked some 377 challenges in 2019. (Challenges dipped below 300 in 2020, when the pandemic shuttered libraries and schools.) “Overwhelmingly, we’re seeing these challenges come from organized censorship groups that target local library board meetings to demand removal of a long list of books they share on social media,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, in a release. “Their aim is to suppress the voices of those traditionally excluded from our nation’s conversations, such as people in the LGBTQIA+ community or people of color."
ALA will unveil its highly anticipated list of the top 10 most challenged books in the U.S. on Monday, April 24, during National Library Week 2023.
A ray of good news this for freedom to read advocates looking to go on the offensive, from Illinois: NBC affiliate WGEM reports that the Illinois House has passed a bill that would prohibit libraries from banning books. As we reported a few weeks back, House Bill 2789, led by Democratic Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias (who oversees the Illinois State Library), requires libraries to adopt the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights or a similar policy that prohibits book banning as a condition of funding. “Banning books is the sort of behavior that was once, for good reason, associated with the worst, most repressive and repugnant authoritarian regimes of the mid-20th century and before,” the bill’s lead sponsor Rep. Anne Stava-Murray, D-Naperville, said during debate on the House floor, as reported by WGEM. “The fact that this is even up for discussion in America in the 21st century is disgusting."
Meanwhile, the Kansas City Star reports that Missouri lawmakers this week have moved to pull funding from the state's public libraries as "retaliation for a lawsuit challenging a new state law that bans certain materials" in schools and school libraries. "The proposal, approved close to midnight by the House Budget Committee, would cut the entire $4.5 million in state aid that libraries were slated to get next year. The proposed library cut, along with other changes to the state’s roughly $50 billion budget, will now head to the full Missouri House. The lawsuit, meanwhile, was filed in February by the ACLU (acting pro bono) in the Circuit Court of Jackson County on behalf of the Missouri Association of School Librarians and the Missouri Library Association. It claims that Senate Bill 775, which bans libraries and teachers from sharing allegedly 'sexually explicit' material under the threat of criminal prosecution (and has already led to a number of books being pulled from library shelves), is unconstitutional.
CBS affiliate IdahoNews reports that some 700 people showed up to the Ada County Board of Commissioners hearing on a local group's petition to dissolve the Meridian Library District over claims that the library is "exposing children to explicit material." The board is set to decide next week whether the petition will go on next November's ballot. If the measure does make it on the ballot, it sets up the kind of ugly campaign that succeeded in defunding the Patmos Library in Michigan, which garnered national headlines.
And local affiliate KTVB in Idaho has looked at the public comments, reporting that residents support the Meridian Library. "These books are not smut or porn, they are potential sources of education," one comment states. "I can vividly remember when I gave my 11-year-old stepson a book regarding his changing body. This book was a life line, as it opened up communication between us regarding sex and sexuality."
In Iowa, Iowa Public Radio reports that librarians in the state are concerned that Governor Kim Reynolds’ new reorganization bill might politicize the Iowa Commission of Libraries, which oversees a host of critical library functions. "I'm a little concerned that if it becomes a political agency, things that that are important for intellectual freedom, information access, and intellectual standards will be at risk," Sam Helmick, the president of the Iowa Library Association, told reporters. "I don't believe that is the intention. But that is how we were setting up the board for the game to be played."
Also in Iowa, the Gazette has a profile of Helmick, who serves as the community and access services coordinator for the Iowa City Public Library in addition to serving as president of the Iowa Library Association. “A book for every reader and a reader for every book,” Helmick told reporters. “We’re not making anybody read them, and neither should we, but we shouldn’t make that choice impossible.”
An update from Lapeer, Michigan, where Bridge Michigan reports that library director Amy Churchill reportedly now has until mid-may to decide whether the library will keep Maia Kobabe's Gender Queer in the collection. Bridge reports that at a library board meeting this week "most spoke in support of keeping the book," which the article notes is shelved in the adult section, "but a sizable minority objected." Churchill has defended the book, even after a local prosecutor asserted last week that he could charge library employees with a crime if they refuse to remove it.
From Book Riot, Kelly Jensen this week leads her weekly censorship report with a potentially very useful survey: she's asking literary agents to weigh in on whether they are feeling the impact of book banning efforts in terms of what publishers are signing up. "Any agent is welcome to partake, and they may pass the survey along to colleague—it is anonymous, with no required number of questions to be answered," Jensen notes.
In Connecticut, CTInsider reports that the state's new, revised e-book bill has been voted out of committee unanimously. And the article points out something a number of librarians have been pointing out after we linked to the testimony last week: that opposition from publisher groups calling the state's new bill unconstitutional appears to be based mostly on the Maryland law shot down by the courts last year rather than the new bill under consideration. "I don't think the publishers have read the bills in Connecticut," one librarian told reporters. "What we're doing here in Connecticut is contract law. The Connecticut legislature has purview over contracts in Connecticut. We have procurement law to ensure taxpayer dollars are used properly."
Some award winners to announce: From School Library Journal, congratulations to Julie Stivers, winner of School Library Journal's 2023 School Librarian of the Year. "The librarian at Mount Vernon Middle School, an alternative, public, academic-recovery school in Raleigh, N.C., has spent the last nine years creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for the school's students, who fell behind or were left back for a variety of reasons," SLJ's profile notes. "She has built a collection that reflects the community of students and their interests, fostering a love of reading along the way, as well as running in-person and virtual clubs and community reads and checking in with families as she strives to make a difference through personal relationships."
Congratulations as well to two ALA Award winners: Emily J.M. Knox is the recipient of the 2023 Eli M. Oboler Memorial Award, which recognizes the best published work in the area of intellectual freedom, for her 2022 book Foundations of Intellectual Freedom, published by ALA/ Neal-Schuman. The Oboler Award selection committee the book's "high literary quality, outstanding references and research, and the importance of its message during what could be described as a period of intellectual freedom crisis. The selection committee agreed that the content is relevant to library workers at libraries and institutions of every kind."
And Amanda Jones, school librarian and president of the Louisiana Association of School Librarians, is the recipient of the 2023 American Association of School Librarians’ (AASL) Intellectual Freedom Award. "Amanda is an example that we must all stand together and stand strong,” said AASL president Kathy Lester, in announcing the award. “When a public library is challenged, all libraries are challenged. When a school or district in a state is challenged it is only a matter of time before other schools and districts are challenged. To unite and protect the rights of all learners is inspirational.”
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.