The American Library Association kicks off National Library Week on Sunday, with a full slate of events to follow. This year's theme is "There's More to the Story," which organizers say emphasizes all that libraries have to offer. This year's honorary chair is award-winning and bestselling author Kelly Yang, author of many books for young readers, including the Front Desk series: Front Desk, Three Keys, Room to Dream, Key Player, and the forthcoming Top Story (due out in September).
Among the 2023 National Library Week highlights:
Monday, April 24 is Right to Read Day, "a day for readers, advocates, and library lovers to take action to protect, defend, and celebrate the right to read." The annual State of America's Libraries Report will also be released.
Tuesday, April 25 is National Library Workers Day, "a day for library staff, users, administrators, and Friends groups to recognize the valuable contributions made by all library workers."
Wednesday, April 26 is National Library Outreach Day (formerly National Bookmobile Day), "a day to celebrate library outreach and the dedicated library professionals who are meeting their patrons where they are."
Thursday, April 27 is Take Action for Libraries Day, "a day to rally advocates to support libraries."
As we reported in Publishers Weekly, ahead of National Library Week PEN America has issued an alarming (but not at all surprising) new report, Banned in the USA: State Laws Supercharge Book Suppression in Schools, which highlights the political battle animating the surge in book bans and threats to the freedom to read across the nation. "Of the 1,477 reported book ban cases this school year, 74% are connected to organized efforts, mainly of advocacy groups; elected officials; or enacted legislation," the report states. "Additionally, 25% of individual books banned were connected to political pressure from elected or appointed officials."
The report acknowledges the "the increasing role of legislation in driving decision-makers to proactively restrict books" and the creation of "vague" standards that has led to "an environment of fear and intimidation" for librarians and educators. And PEN officials say there is no sign the movement is slowing down. "Looking ahead, PEN America’s preliminary tracking of the second half of the 2022-2023 school year suggests censorship efforts are still ramping up," the report concludes. "In defending the freedom to read, we are increasingly concerned by the burden and cost that this movement to ban books places on public schools, as well as students, administrators, educators, and librarians."
According to PEN, the two most active states by far in terms of book bans are Texas and Florida. And both states advanced troubling legislation this week.
In Florida, the Associated Press reports on the expansion of Florida's controversial "Don't Say Gay" law, which will now prohibit "lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity from grades 4-12, unless required by existing state standards or as part of reproductive health instruction that students can choose not to take."
An article from the Hill suggests the expansion could lead to a "flood" of book bans across Florida. Although the measure does not ban books outright, Kirk Bailey, political director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Florida affiliate, told reporters "it effectively creates a process where that’s what happens.”
A piece in Reuters, meanwhile, reinforces the politics behind the measure. "Some 72% of Democrats in a Reuters/Ipsos poll from March said they were more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who supported letting teachers discuss sexual orientation and gender identity at school," the article states. "Among Republicans, however, 76% said they were less likely to support such a candidate."
Via the Texas Tribune, news that the Texas House has passed House Bill 900, which seeks to ban allegedly "sexually explicit" books from school libraries. Among the bill's provisions, if it becomes law: publishers and vendors would be required to assign ratings based on sexual content, with books deemed "explicit" banned from library shelves. “Texas Republicans seem eager to send our state down a slippery slope where extremists can come together and ban huge catalogs of literature every two years—especially if those books don’t mesh with their ideas of what ‘traditional society’ should look like,” Texas Democratic Party chair Gilberto Hinojosa told the Tribune in a statement. The news comes after the Texas Senate passed its own school library bill, SB 13. According to the article, it is not clear whether lawmakers will try to pass both SB 13 and HB 900, or combine them.
The New Yorker explores how libraries are being dragged into the culture was via a long, well-written piece on the travails of the local public library system in Flathead County, Montana. "Local-library systems, and local librarians, are being vilified nationwide as peddlers of Marxism and child pornography. Whatever faith there was in public learning and public space is fraying. Though book bans aren’t new, current bids at censorship are often paired with cuts to library budgets. Last month, the Missouri House of Representatives tried to eliminate all funding for public libraries. A group of citizens in Ada County, Idaho, attempted to force a vote that would dissolve the local-library system. Tactics previously applied in public schools, ostensibly to protect children, are now being used against city-and-county-library systems whose mandate is to help everyone."
In Missouri, the Independent reports that a Senate budget committee, es expected, has fully restored the funding for public libraries that was cut by the House. The spending measures will now be debated in the Senate, "setting up negotiations with the House to iron out differences before the May 5 deadline for appropriations."
From Bridge Michigan, a report on how librarians and library supporters defeated a proposed ordinance in Cass County that would have exposed librarians to criminal prosecution for making allegedly inappropriate books available to children. "The successful effort emboldened librarians who say they’ve felt under attack for the past year and indicates how free speech advocates are adopting some of the tactics conservatives have used to wield political influence over what books are made available to children."
In her weekly Book Riot censorship news roundup, Kelly Jensen circles back to a survey of literary agents she sent out weeks ago, asking what impact they were seeing from this wave of book bans. She got few responses. "It’s not even worth reporting the results of the survey because I think the lack of response tells more than anything else," she writes, pointing out that the major publishers—"save for when publishers are electing to erase history and indeed, the word “racism” from books to make them more palatable"— have also been far too silent in standing up against the coordinated attack on the freedom to read. "What happens when those of us who write and publish, those of us who care about books and reading and the First Amendment, and those of us who fall anywhere in the middle of those two categories, don’t even have our own teams speaking up or out? Pushing back? Asking questions? Sharing insights?" she asks. "It further fuels book bans."
Lawyers for four major publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, and Wiley) and the Internet Archive have asked for another extension, until April 27, to file a proposal for how to proceed with the next stage of their copyright infringement case over the scanning and lending of library books. On March 24, a federal court found the Internet Archive infringed the copyrights of four plaintiff publishers by scanning and lending their books under a legally contested practice known as controlled digital lending. The parties are now tasked with working out a process to determine what judgment should be entered in the case. According to a letter filed with the judge, the parties are working toward a process that would "streamline or eliminate" the need for further litigation to determine damages, injunctive relief, and attorneys fees. Of course, an appeal is also likely in the offing.
Meanwhile, in the Nation, Michelle Wu, an early proponent of controlled digital lending, opines on the Internet Archive case. "Historically, copyright was intended to facilitate the efficient consumption and use of information, not to stand in its way. Libraries remain a critical part of the intended ecosystem, both by paying authors for the number of copies they use and by providing access to borrowers who cannot afford to purchase a book themselves. The weaponization of copyright to artificially limit technology’s reach where it would otherwise enable the buyer to use the work as intended when they bought it hurts all of us—and undermines the very purpose of copyright."
In San Francisco, local affiliate KQED reports that the Board of Supervisors in the Internet Archive's hometown of San Francisco unanimously passed a resolution supporting the Internet Archive, urging "the California State Legislature and the United States Congress to act to protect digital libraries."
And finally this week, the American Library Association announced that it will confer an honorary lifetime membership upon Dolly Parton, the highest honor given by the Association. ALA is slated to officially confer the honorary membership upon Parton during the ALA Annual Conference, set for June 22-27 in Chicago.
“ALA is proud to bestow this well-deserving honor upon Dolly Parton in recognition of her accomplishments in the world of libraries, learning, and literacy,” said ALA President Lessa Kanani'opua Pelayo-Lozada, in a release. “Her Imagination Library initiative, which was inspired by her father’s inability to read or write, was launched to foster an early love of reading and learning in her hometown of Sevier Co., Tenn. Today this high-quality, book-gifting program reaches millions of children in five countries and is a shining example of her commitment to early childhood literacy and ensuring access to books for all children, which speaks to the core values of our organization.”
In addition to the honorary membership, Parton has joined the Celebrity READ® Campaign, featuring a new poster in which she holds The Little Engine That Could and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Readers can place an order for Dolly’s poster online at the ALA Store.
Finally, something everyone can agree on: Dolly Parton is a national treasure.