The American Library Association's State of America's Libraries 2023 report is out this week, and it's well worth a read. An annual staple of National Library Week, the report outlines the challenges and successes of libraries, but in a year when librarians and library workers have face withering threats and the freedom to read is under a coordinated political assault, the takeaway from this year's report is that we cannot take our nation's libraries for granted. Librarians and library workers need to be defended. Advocacy has never been more important.
"Many libraries and their staffs nationwide—school, public, college and university, special, carceral, and consortial—found themselves contending with reduced funding and staffing, threats to personal safety in the form of bomb scares and to professional livelihoods from firings and job losses, and bills threatening to criminally charge librarians or defund libraries altogether for making certain materials available on their shelves or findable through reference services," writes Tracie D. Hall in an intro to the report. "Despite these pressures, libraries have proven themselves to be among the most adaptable of public and community-serving institutions."
From Bloomberg City Lab, a really cool graphic article from visual storyteller Ariel Aberg-Riger that explores "the threats libraries face, their historical context, and how activists are mobilizing to protect a diversity of thought." In 2019, Aberg-Riger also did a visual piece on "how libraries came to be a critical piece of social infrastructure."
In the Tennessean, recently retired Nashville librarian Kent Oliver (now a senior fellow with the ALA’s Office of Public Policy and Advocacy) editorializes about the current wave of book bans. "Every book is not for every reader, but every reader deserves to see themselves on the shelves of a library," Oliver writes. "The strife caused by these mass book challenges is taking a toll on the librarians that National Library Week was instituted to honor. Although polling over the past decade consistently shows that voters overwhelmingly trust and have a high regard for them, the professional, psychological, and even physical well-being of librarians is at risk."
In a major development, the New York Times reports that the College Board twill once again revise its AP African American Studies course after the academic community accused the company of altering the course under political pressure in Florida. "The College Board said on Monday that it would revise its Advanced Placement African American studies course, less than three months after releasing it to a barrage of criticism from scholars, who accused the board of omitting key concepts and bending to political pressure from Gov. Ron DeSantis," the Times report states. "While written in couched terms, the College Board’s statement appeared to acknowledge that in its quest to offer the course to as many students as possible—including those in conservative states—it watered down key concepts."
The Indiana Capital Chronicle reports that lawmakers in Indiana have passed a "harmful to minors" library bill in the closing hours of the legislative session. The measure now heads to the governor. "The bill requires school libraries to publicly post lists of books in their collection and create a formal grievance process for parents and community members who live in the district to object to certain materials in circulation," the report states. "Language in the proposal also seeks to remove 'educational purposes' as a reason that schools or district board members could claim legal protection for sharing 'harmful material' with underage students. The charge is a felony."
Kansas City NPR affiliate KCUR reports on the plight of librarians facing intense political pressure in Missouri. "Between a new state law and efforts to end funding for libraries, the wave of efforts from Missouri’s Republican-controlled legislature to restrict public libraries has thrown the future of these institutions into doubt," the report states. “It places an undue emotional burden on librarians. On top of having to do their job...they have to worry about going to jail for a year,” Joe Kohlburn, an academic librarian at Jefferson College, told reporters. “There may be consequences, but I think librarians have to make this stand.”
In Louisiana, the local Daily Advertiser reports that a Louisiana Senate panel has advanced a bill to restrict minors' access to allegedly "sexually explicit" library books without allowing the opposition a chance to testify at the hearing. The legislation would require libraries to "create a tiered card system in which parents can decide whether their children can check out material deemed questionable. It also gives local library boards the final say on what is sexually explicit rather than librarians," the report states. "If libraries violate the proposed law, the bill would allow their governing bodies to withhold funding."
The Independent has a long story about book bans and Louisiana librarian Amanda Jones's legal battle against the men who publicly accused her of wanting to distribute pornography to children after she spoke against banning books at a public meeting. "Towns across Louisiana are among dozens across the country wrapped up in a movement against titles like This Book Is Gay, joining a pressure campaign against LGBT+ people that is dominating state legislatures. Over the last two years, lawmakers have flooded statehouses and Congress with nearly identical bills that aim to control and restrict LGBT+ Americans, particularly trans youth, and their families," the report notes.
Meanwhile, Patch reports on a similar situation in New Jersey, where high school librarian Roxana Russo Caivano has filed a defamation suit against a group of individuals who have allegedly publicly labeled her a "child predator" for making Maia Kobabe's Gender Queer available in the library. Caivano "has faced personal attacks as a result of these claims," according to her husband, Anthony, an attorney who is also representing her in the case.
Fox News also reports on Caivano's lawsuit. The article claims that two of the women named in the suit are being sued for "speaking out" rather than for personal attacks on Caivano's character. "We spoke to the fact that these are our children, nobody else’s," the women told Fox. "And we have the right to direct their upbringing and those books do not match the morals and values that I teach in my home."
In New York, CNY Central reports that state senator Rachel May and assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell have teamed up to introduce the the Freedom to Read Act. The bill would require school districts ensure "school libraries and librarians are able to provide students with access to the widest array of age-appropriate materials available." according to the text of the legislation.
From Book Riot, Kelly Jensen begins her exhaustive weekly roundup of censorship news by writing about the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a group that came together at the turn of the 20th Century to lobby and advocate for the teaching of a pro-confederacy version of history in southern classrooms. The UDC playbook, she points out, is being used by pro-censorship groups today: “Being aware of the history of these 'liberty' minded groups, bent on erasing entire groups and legacies of people with their false narratives, lies, and work to codify christian nationalism and whiteness as law, is crucial in order to keep fighting the good fight.”
Meanwhile, in New York City, NBC News reports that it appears that the New York Public Library will be spared from some deep cuts being proposed to close a serious city budget shortfall, although Spectrum News NY1 reports that cuts appear to still be on the table. "While the five boroughs' public libraries will no longer face $52.7 million in cuts, they still face a proposed reduction of $36.2 million," Spectrum reports.
The Seattle Times reports that the Seattle Public is joining Brooklyn Public Library’s Books Unbanned initiative, offering free access to e-books to young people nationwide who are particularly affected by current book censorship efforts. “We heard a lot of interest from our patrons and our staff in that program, and we started wondering what it would look like to have a partner in that program,” Andrew Harbison, director of SPL’s library programs and services division, told the reporters, adding that BPL librarians were "excited to have more libraries participating and advocating for access and intellectual freedom.”
From CBS Bay Area, a student occupation of UC Berkeley's anthropology library is approaching the one-week mark. “The protest going on inside UC Berkeley's Anthropology and Art Building is a bit unusual. No chanting, no bullhorns. You can hear a pin drop. In fact, except for the beds strewn around the room, you wouldn't know anything was going on. But that's what happens when you occupy a library,” the report notes. The library is being targeted for closure as a cost-cutting measure.
In Utah, the Salt Lake Tribune reports on the movement to unionize at the Salt Lake City Public Library. “We—who serve the public, who help keep our branches clean and safe, who directly implement and feel the effects of every policy—deserve to have real input in the decision-making processes that affect us and the public, and we deserve to be compensated appropriately for it. A union can help us achieve that,” librarian Jacob Rosenzweig said in a statement
And finally, via American Libraries, Cindy Hohl, director of policy analysis and operational support at Kansas City (Missouri) Public Library, has been elected 2024–2025 president of the ALA. “We have a lot of good work ahead of us in libraries, and I look forward to listening to feedback, hearing your ideas, and moving forward with that inspiration to uphold the professional ethics of our trusted profession as we highlight the high value of libraries," Hohl said in a statement.
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.