Covid-19 and its aftermath are still with us, but as of May 11 the national emergency is officially over. And a recent report from the EveryLibrary Institute (EveryLibrary's nonprofit research arm) explores what's next for libraries. The report, Funding Our Priorities, looks at "municipal and state revenue and expenditure priorities through a library lens," EveryLibrary executive director John Chrastka said in a release this week. And with the sunset of federal Covid relief funds and the return of "traditional pressures" on library budgets, it's well worth a read.
"Policymakers continually debate about the priorities of states and municipalities to fund public libraries, education, and the social safety net relative to public safety, including police and sheriff services. This report presents a point-in-time, multi-state snapshot of public library expenditures, staffing, and revenue data and compares that snapshot with other local government agencies," reads the executive summary. "Coming through the pandemic, and with unprecedented support for state and municipal budgets provided in the CARES Act and American Rescue Plan, governments now have surpluses for the first time since the 1990s. But what will happen to municipal and state budgets if or when there is a return to economic austerity? How can libraries better demonstrate their value to obtain additional funding from that surplus, especially if decision-makers face tough questions about local spending allocations?"
The report is authored by A.J. Million, director of the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data at the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) at the University of Michigan, and Jenny Bossaller, associate professor at the iSchool at the University of Missouri. It's available for free on the EveryLibrary Institute website.
In Florida, the state Department of Education announced this week that it has rejected more than a third of social studies textbooks, or, as a Florida DOE press frames it, the state approved over 60% The Miami Herald has a list of the 34 textbooks that were rejected, including books from such major publishers as McGraw-Hill and ABC-CLIO. A report in the New York Times notes that the state’s approved list of social studies textbooks will have "a significant impact on how history is taught to nearly three million Florida public school students, on topics ranging from slavery and Jim Crow to the Holocaust."
While many have hailed the "first-in-the-nation legislation to prevent book bans" in Illinois, an essay in Truthout this week applauds the aim of the bill but questions the wisdom of it. The bill would condition state grant funding for libraries on adhering to the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights or adopting a similar policy against banning books. "Any bill that threatens cuts, especially as punishment, rather than providing more, badly misses the mark," argues Jaime Taylor. "To be clear, book bans are bad and we need our legislators to help us stop them. What could our legislators do instead of threatening libraries? They could strengthen labor protections for library workers, so those workers can fight book bans without fear of losing their livelihoods. They could codify something like academic freedom for all library workers. They could reaffirm the freedom to read, including for children and teens, that is based in the U.S. Constitution. They could legislate patron privacy, especially digital privacy... They could do literally anything that supports libraries, library workers and library patrons, instead of punishing them."
From local affiliate NewsChannel 9, a right wing group in Hamilton County, Tenn., has apparently succeeded in getting a school librarian's Mothers Day-themed lesson canceled because two books to be read were inclusive of families without "traditional" mother figures: "One was a book called Stella Brings the Family, about a girl's awkward feelings about a Mother's Day celebration because she doesn't have a mother. In the book she has two fathers. The other was called Mother Bruce, about a male bear who adopts a gaggle of goslings who think he's their mom." The group argued to school administrators that the books promote "the homosexual agenda."
Greg Sargent at the Washington Post also weighed in with an editorial. "By now, it’s well understood that the right’s efforts to restrict classroom discussion are all about marginalizing LGBTQ people under the guise of protecting children," Sargent writes. "But they also harbor a less obvious aim: to convince parents that kids are under threat in the first place."
In Oregon, Jefferson Public Radio reports that the Klamath County Commissioners have shut down "a social justice book group" hosted by the library. "In April, they planned to discuss a book on police abolition called No More Police by Mariame Kaba and Andrea J. Ritchie. In response, commissioners ordered the library to shut down any programming that could be perceived as political," the report states. "Library director Nathalie Johnston says shutting down the group amounts to censorship, and that the library isn’t endorsing the books, but promoting a free and open discussion."
The Providence Journal reports that a "small group" of Rhode Island lawmakers are pursuing an effort to broaden the state's existing obscenity laws to include "cartoon or animated" materials, such as comics and graphic novels, and threatening school librarians with fines and jail time if found in violation. The effort, the article states, "is unlikely to be successful."
From ProPublica, news this week that the deputy director of the Anchorage Public Library Judy Eledge is resigning, ending a contentious chapter at the library. "Eledge, a longtime conservative stalwart in Alaska, was appointed library director by Bronson in August 2021. But after it became clear she would not be confirmed by the Anchorage Assembly, she became deputy director, a role that does not require nomination hearings or approval by the Assembly. In that role, she essentially led the library until late last year, when a new director started work," ProPublica reports. "Eledge’s tenure was fraught with controversy, as employees accused her of making racist and inappropriate comments—some of which were recorded—and fostering a hostile work environment."
At Book Riot, Kelly Jensen kicks off her weekly censorship news roundup with some timely advice for librarians preparing displays for Pride Week: "It is impossible to completely safeguard against what will happen in any library when it comes to Pride displays. But, knowing about the tactics used by
book banners ~parental rights activists~ and knowing where and how to advocate on behalf of LGBTQ+ books—and people—help in preparing for the best, most effective library pride displays."
From the Boston Globe, supporters in Danvers, Mass., showed up in force to support a "makeup class for teens taught by a drag queen at the town library. "About a half-dozen people showed up to protest the event Wednesday, compared with the 200 or so who showed up out of solidarity with handheld signs that said 'U Be U,' 'No Place for Hate,' and 'Drag Is Art.'"
Library Journal has released its annual list of Movers & Shakers, and it's another excellent group of world-class librarians doing extraordinary work. "One of the questions I’m asked most often—by friends and colleagues alike—is: What are the biggest issues facing libraries today?" writes LJ Executive Editor Lisa Peet, in her introduction. "Anyone seeking answers would do well to take a look at the 2023 lineup of Movers & Shakers, who are engaging in those issues head on: challenges to intellectual freedom, racism, antisemitism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, food and resource insecurity, and a systemic lack of opportunity for those who are underserved."
The New Yorker has an excellent graphic essay about working as a prison librarian on Riker's Island in New York City. You really have to see this.
From the local CBS affiliate comes this report on the Fairfield Area Public Library in Virginia, near Richmond, which has created a designated area for working parents.
In the Washington Post, a former children’s and youth services librarian writes in praise of busy, noisy libraries in connection with a new picture book, The Loud Librarian by Jenna Beatrice and illustrated by Erika Lynne Jones. "If you’re a baby boomer like me, you probably remember libraries as places of silent reading; any loud voices were immediately shushed by a librarian," writes Karen MacPherson. "These days, however, libraries are more like bustling community centers, where being at least somewhat noisy is the new normal, especially when kids are involved. As someone who led hundreds of circle times at my public library, I can tell you there’s just no quiet way to do the Hokey Pokey."
And finally this week, the Seattle Times has a great piece celebrating the 25th anniversary of Seattle's groundbreaking one city/one book program. "Twenty-five years ago, librarian Nancy Pearl had an idea: What if all of Seattle read the same book?," the article starts out. "That book was Russell Banks' The Sweet Hereafter—'it’s the kind of book that when you finish it, you just want to talk about it,' Pearl remembered in a 2021 interview—and just like that, with co-founder Chris Higashi and a grant from the Readers Digest Foundation, a yearly citywide book club was launched."
This year’s 25th anniversary Seattle Reads selection will, for the first time, bring back an author who’s participated in the program before—Julie Otsuka, whose debut When the Emperor Was Divine was the city-wide selection in 2005. She returns in 2023 with her novel The Swimmers.
While the name of the program has changed to "Seattle Reads," not much else has changed with the popular program, the Seattle Times observes, which has since been adopted in numerous towns and cities across the country. "We know that people come together and engage with literature through the program, and engage with one another," Stesha Brandon, literature and humanities program manager for Seattle Public Library and the current steward of the program, told reporters. "And that can be community-building and community-changing."
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.