Book bans and the freedom to read will be the hot topic at the 2023 American Library Association Annual Conference in Chicago, which kicked off with the first-ever Rally for the Right to Read on Thursday evening. As I reported for Publishers Weekly, the rally was an important, inspiring moment for librarians, who have been under withering assault for more than two years for defending the freedom to read. There was a real sense that a broad array of advocates are now pulling in the same direction, and the tide is turning against a years-long, organized political attack not just on the freedom to read, but on our democracy.

"Fundamentally, what we’re seeing is growing intolerance for difference of opinions, and polarized disagreements have taken the place of informed and respectful discussion and debate," noted Toronto Public Library's Vikery Bowles at the rally. "And the way the attack on libraries has been politicized by state legislatures and local authorities has taken these challenges to a whole new level."

In a look at just how pervasive the legislative threats facing libraries are in this political climate, EveryLibrary has released a sobering report, Unpacking 2023 Legislation of Concern for Libraries, that tracks the state-level legislation affecting libraries. Among its findings: 24 bills have passed in state legislatures across 14 states as of June 17. Two have been vetoed, and 22 are in the process of being enacted.

"In several instances, historic defenses from criminal prosecution for public librarians, schools, or libraries over books and materials have been removed, raising concerns about librarians' professional autonomy and ability to provide access to content without fear of arrest," the report notes. "Other themes include provisions related to changing the definitions of obscenity and harmful to minors; changes to collection development and collection review or challenge policies; mandating age verification checks for patrons; creating new liabilities for school libraries; withholding funds; and imposing book rating systems."

The report is a must-read. It is at once a comprehensive look at the extent of this historic threat to the freedom to read and a call to arms that urges library supporters to adopt "an activism model" for building political power. "Any organizer has three resources with which to build political power: Time, Money, and People," the report notes. "The goal is to convert time and money, which are finite resources, into people, which is a much longer-term resource and a significant source of political power when organized for action."

For those in Chicago for ALA, you can hear directly from EveryLibrary founder and executive director John Chrastka on a panel entitled Help! They're Coming for Our Books! (Sunday, 11 a.m.-noon, McCormick room W185a). Sponsored by the ALA’s Rainbow Round Table, the panel will discuss the legal rights of libraries and librarians, and will also feature Angela Ocaña, current chair of the ALA Intellectual Freedom Round Table; Christine Emeran, Youth Free Expression program director with the National Coalition Against Censorship; and Jonathan Friedman, PEN America’s director of free expression and education programs.

Meanwhile, on that advocacy front, the EveryLibrary Institute announced a great addition to its board of directors this week: Roger Rosen, Chairman of Rosen Publishing, a leading K-12 publisher. Rosen is well-known and highly respected for his commitment to intellectual freedom, social justice, and diverse voices. "As a publisher, I understand the importance of access to information and the power of libraries to transform lives," Rosen said, in a statement. "I look forward to contributing to EveryLibrary Institute's efforts to ensure that libraries have the resources they need to thrive."

In our June 9 column, we reported on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals now reviewing a federal judge's order that returned 17 books to library shelves in Llano County, Tex., while a closely-watched lawsuit over their removal proceeds. This week, the Texas Tribune reports that librarians and publishers are "worried about existing legal precedents" at issue in the case. "We have individuals who are trying to tell us what they believe librarianship is without listening to librarians about what librarianship is all about,” Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom and executive director of the Freedom to Read Foundation, told reporters at the Tribune. “I do believe that it’s an effort to either limit the role of libraries in society or take them away altogether.”

If you're in Chicago for ALA, you can hear Caldwell-Stone talk about the case and others at a session entitled Books Under Fire Law and the Right to Read 2023 (Saturday, 1-2 p.m, McCormick room W180). The session will also feature Theresa Chmara, general counsel for the Freedom to Read Foundation, the ALA’s First Amendment legal defense arm, which is a plaintiff in the suit challenging Arkansas's new "harmful to minors" law.

Over at Book Riot, Kelly Jensen begins her weekly censorship roundup with a timely look at the ALA's Library Bill of Rights, which was enacted 70 years ago this week. "It is important we know and understand the document, as well as use it as a guiding tool for ensuring libraries remain open, accessible, and as equitable as possible to all," Jensen writes. "This means both having the books and resources representative of all people and *also* having mechanisms in place—policies and procedures—to ensure that those who disagree with materials in the collection have the right to express those views and have them addressed. Good policies and procedures are foundational to the First Amendment Rights of all, and for libraries that follow the Library Bill of Rights, this means not bowing to loud pressure but allowing it to do what it needs to do through the proper channels."

From, a report that a Utah school district won't ban the bible under a new state law governing the "appropriateness" of library materials. "The Davis School District board on Tuesday voted unanimously to reverse the decision of an initial review committee and retain the Bible in all district libraries after weeks of controversy and criticism," the report states. "So far, the district has conducted reviews for 60 books," the report adds, with 37 removed for violating the state's new "bright line rule" for books that are deemed "pornographic," while 14 books were "restricted at some levels due to age-appropriateness" and nine were retained. In a statement, district officials denied that the Bible was restricted as a stunt to undermine the new law.

If you don’t like a children’s book that’s on the shelf, don’t let your children read it.That’s a conversation between you and your child. But you don’t get to tell other people what their children can and cannot read. It’s really that simple.

Also in Utah, the Salt Lake Tribune reports on the good work of Salt Lake City's downtown library's recently hired social worker, Nicole Campolucci. "The library hired Campolucci in December as its first licensed clinical social worker, with the official title of social services coordinator. It’s her job to assess what library patrons—especially those experiencing homelessness, or who have other psychosocial needs—want and need, as well as what staff needs, and help them get it," the article states. "So far she has made an impact. In the last three months, the library has provided 2,144 services to people, up from 1,170 in the three months before."

The Arkansas Advocate reports on how Saline County is considering vesting a single judge with "full and complete authority" over the county's library system. The move comes after the library's director, Patty Hector, refused to "relocate books" the library board believes are inappropriate. "Hector has refused to relocate books, and she told the court in May that 'there is nothing wrong with these books' and 'it’s not illegal to be gay or trans,'" the article states. If passed, the resolution would empower a county judge with the authority to relocate the books.

From the Springfield Daily Citizen, news that the Christian County Library in Missouri will not be implementing a "rating system" for books. The decision reflects the ongoing worry and confusion among Missouri librarians after Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft implemented a rule that requires libraries in the state to restrict "age-inappropriate" materials at the risk of losing state funding.

"The key reason for executive director Renee Brummett’s recommendation to not establish such a system dealt with how reviewing all of the library’s materials for ratings would be too large of a project for current staff members and budget limitations," the report notes. "In discussion of the issue, board members pointed to research by Brumett that found that while rating systems exist for movies and video games, no such system is available for the book publishing industry.... That would mean library staff members would have to do the job of reviewing more than 70,000 titles, about 28,000 of which are children’s and young adult titles," adding that a responsible rating system would require a title to be reviewed by at least three people each "to ensure objectivity."

In South Carolina, local affiliate WSPA7 reports on a courageous library manager who has refused to take down a Pride display. "A Greenville County Library director told the manager of the library to take the display down Monday, according to emails. He said the Greenville County Library System does 'not want to post content that could be interpreted as if the Library System has taken a position on a particular subject,'" the report states. "The library manager responded by saying removing the display 'could likewise be interpreted as if the Library System has taken a position on this particular subject. One that is decidedly anti-LGBTQ+.' The manager refused to remove the display."

From the Dayton Daily News, news that the Dayton (Ohio) Metro library will become a sanctuary library. "As efforts to ban books skyrocket across the country, the Dayton Metro Library is taking steps to collect and protect endangered books. The board of directors at Dayton Metro Library have declared the library system a Book Sanctuary, joining more than 2,400 libraries across the United States that seek out books that have been subject to bans or attempted bans, making them available for patrons to check out," the report notes. Great quote from executive director Jeffrey Trzeciak on the move: "If you don’t like a children’s book that’s on the shelf, don’t let your children read it," Trzeciak told the paper. "That’s a conversation between you and your child. But you don’t get to tell other people what their children can and cannot read. It’s really that simple."

And finally this week, e-books are also the minds of librarians here at the 2023 American Library Association Annual Conference, and the New York Times has good editorial this week on an issue librarians are grappling with: the world's digital memory.

"The fact that crucial decisions about whether to keep or destroy data are kept in the hands of actors with profit motives, autocratic aspirations or other self-serving ends has a huge implication not only for individuals but also for the culture at large," opines data scientist Nanna Bonde Thylstrup, in a guest essay. "Few nonprofit organizations or publicly backed digital libraries are able to operate at the scale needed to truly democratize control of digital knowledge. Which means important decisions about how these issues play out are left to powerful, profit-driven corporations or political leaders with agendas. Understanding these forces is a critical step toward managing, mitigating and ultimately controlling data loss and, with it, the conditions under which our societies remember and forget."

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.