Via EveryLibrary, news of an unexpected victory in Idaho this week as Republican governor Brad little vetoed HB 314, the so-called Children's School and Library Protection Act of 2023. Among its provisions, the bill, which passed both houses of the Idaho legislature with strong (but not veto-proof) majorities, would have empowered parents to seek $2,500 rewards from libraries for making supposedly inappropriate materials available to minors.
"This legislation makes sweeping, blanket assumptions on materials that could be determined as 'harmful to minors' in a local library, and it will force one interpretation of that phrase onto all the patrons of the library," Little wrote in his veto statement, adding that allowing "any parent, regardless of intention, to collect $2,500 in automatic fines" would create "a library bounty system that will only increase the costs local libraries incur, particularly rural libraries," costs that would then be "forced onto property taxpayers of Idaho or cause the libraries to close to minors altogether."
A statement from the Idaho Library Association thanks the governor for his action. "Although this legislative session is over, there is still work to do," the statement reads. "We hope that Idahoans who care about their libraries and the freedom of parents to choose what is right for their own families will continue to engage with lawmakers on this issue. "Freedoms are only as strong as the will to exercise them. Libraries are an embodiment of the quintessential American value of freedom of speech. The ILA is extremely proud to stand with other Idahoans in supporting the values of intellectual freedom and open access to information for the great state of Idaho."
EveryLibrary executive director John Chrastka praised the advocacy efforts of Idaho librarians. "The Idaho Library Association decided to actively and visibly fight for what they believe this legislative session," Chrastka told PW, adding an important observation: "When we are working in political environments where one vote and—one veto—is all that stands between the right to read and onerous censorship in our libraries, the time for quiet campaigns is over."
As the Idaho Press reports, the bill's failure comes even as Idaho lawmakers made national headlines for passing two other controversial measures, which Little signed this week: "one that criminalized transgender health care for minors and another that bans taking a minor across state lines for an abortion without parental consent."
In Texas, as I reported for Publishers Weekly this week, freedom to read advocates also scored an important legal victory. Federal judge Robert Pitman found that library board members in Llano County infringed the constitutional rights of readers in the community by unilaterally removing books they deemed inappropriate from library shelves. In a preliminary injunction, Pitman ordered books be returned to library shelves and blocked the library from removing any other books while the case continues.
In a statement to CNN, Ellen Leonida, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, called the decision a “ringing victory” for democracy. Llano County has appealed the order to U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
A report in the local Daily Trib reports that the library has complied with the order, with most of the books swiftly returned to the shelves (where they were almost immediately checked out).
“Although libraries are afforded great discretion for their selection and acquisition decisions, the First Amendment prohibits the removal of books from libraries based on either viewpoint or content discrimination,” Pitman wrote in his 26-page decision. But perhaps the most important message delivered from the lawsuit is a warning to library boards around the country: If you intend to censor your library collections, prepare to pay up.
That's a point Alyssa Rosenberg makes in an excellent Washington Post editorial this week (which quotes officials from EveryLibrary). "Library supporters can point out that censorship has costs and wastes public resources," she writes. "Libraries have been sued for removing books or restricting access to them on the grounds that it is illegal for public facilities to favor one political viewpoint over another. Towns can’t ban books because they’re Marxist, or use internet filters that restrict access to gay rights websites while letting users browse conversion therapy ministries. Even if a library or school system wins a case, defending it costs money, and damages can be substantial."
Meanwhile, the Texas Tribune reports that the Texas Senate has passed Senate Bill 1601, which would "defund public libraries where drag queens are allowed to read to children," and Senate Bill 12 which would "bar kids from drag shows if the performances are overly lewd and lascivious," though it's not defined what would constitute lewd behavior. "For months, Texas Senators have said their bills targeting drag shows are meant to protect children from sexually explicit performances," the article states, while opponents counter that "the Republican proposals are helping to fuel an overall backlash against drag—as performers have increasingly seen protests and threats coordinated against them by activists and extremist groups."
In the Austin American Statesman, one Texas librarian attempts to explain the commitment librarians have to the freedom to read. "No matter who is browsing through a school or public library’s collection, they should find things they will like (that other people might hate), and they should find things they will hate (that other people might like). You cannot have one without the other because these are public libraries and libraries in public schools, and that means we provide materials for everyone in the public."
In Indiana, NPR affiliate WFYI reports that the Indiana House Education Committee heard testimony this week on an amendment to a bill that would expose librarians and teachers to criminal prosecution if they are found to share material deemed harmful to minors. "While lawmakers have drafted legislation to address these concerns, they’ve presented little evidence to suggest it’s a widespread problem," the reports notes, a point raised by lawmakers opposed to the measure. “We are not the court of appeals from parents who are unhappy with school board decisions,” Rep. Ed Delaney (D-Indianapolis) said, according to the report. “But if we were the Court of Appeals, we would want evidence. What parent? What school? What book? What hearing? What process? Not this vague discontent.” The amendment would also sweep in public libraries, the report states.
Also in Indiana, an editorial in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette comes out in opposition to the state's 'harmful to minors' library bill. "I am wholly in favor of parents having a voice in their children’s education. I am not aware of a school corporation in my realm of experience that hasn’t adopted a policy or a procedure for parents to lodge complaints regarding materials used in the classroom or housed in school libraries," writes contributor Anna Spalding. "I am not in favor of a law that tells a librarian or teacher 'if you don’t get rid of those books I don’t like, I’m going to see that you get put in jail and pay a hefty fine.'"
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Missouri Senate is will not support a house plan to defund the state's libraries. "Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Tuesday that the panel will place $4.5 million back in the budget, which covers spending for the fiscal year beginning July 1," the paper reports. The move comes after lawmakers in the Missouri House of Representatives approved a plan to cut funding for public libraries as payback for Missouri librarians joining with the ACLU in a lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of a new 'harmful to minors' state law, Senate Bill 775, which bans libraries and teachers from sharing allegedly 'sexually explicit' material under the threat of criminal prosecution.
Variety reports that legendary author (and Florida resident) Judy Blume, no stranger to book bans, offered a "passionate" defense of the freedom to read (and had some choice words for her governor, Ron DeSantis) at Variety‘s Power of Women luncheon this week. "The reality is, we are right back where we were in the ’80s except it’s the ’80s on steroids," Blume told attendees, pointing out that "it’s not the moral majority or only the religious right" behind the current wave of book bans, but the government. "They are criminalizing teachers and librarians. It’s not just that they’re threatening their jobs, they’re threatening them," Blume said. "I’ve known librarians who have saved lives by handing the right book to the right child at the right time. And for that one kid, finding themselves in a book can be a lifesaver.”
In her weekly censorship roundup for Book Riot, Kelly Jensen asks a sobering question for a nation where lawmakers in many states think books are more dangerous to kids than assault weapons. "When book banning started to heat up two years ago, many wondered how long until a library worker would be seriously hurt over defending the right to read. Now, we know it’s not going to be long at all," she writes. "Over the last month, several libraries have faced bomb and shooting threats as a direct result of the books housed in their collections.
In the Indianapolis Star Oseye Boyd weighs in on the ongoing drama over its director position. "The Indianapolis Public Library board’s continuous dysfunction has worn thin and is now to the point of exasperation," Boyd writes.
In South Carolina, another sobering library board story: the Greenville News reports that a well-qualified local leader nominated to fill a library board vacancy was rejected after a conservative city council member circulated an email warning the nominee "would advocate for children having access to 'adult' materials" in the library.
From Inside Higher Education, a look at the new pain points librarians face in the wake of the pandemic. "In recent years, students appear to have shifted the ways in which they engage with the library and librarians," writes Susan D'Agostino. "'We’re teaching this generation of post-pandemic, traumatized students who don’t have confidence in information,' said Christina Trunnell, assistant dean of the library at Montana State University. “'Our core foundational information literacy programs that we teach don’t reach those students anymore.'”
And finally this week, in Pennsylvania, an important, passionate editorial by opinion page contributor (and former teacher) Jill Sunday Bartoli in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. "The war against truth, understanding, human decency, and a full and rich education for all of our children is very well-funded and organized. Dark money is behind the relentless attacks on our teachers and schools (and school boards) who are burning out at record numbers," Bartoli notes. The way to push back? Show up.
"Despite the rampant and vindictive culture wars, and despite anti-teacher and anti-public school propaganda, we are still a representative democracy—as long as we all participate actively," Bartoli concludes. "We must all find the ways that we can move ahead together, fully awake and committed to the important democratic education that our youth deserve. We can do this together–left, right and center—for our teachers, librarians, public schools, and democracy. And most of all, for our children and grandchildren."
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.