Thanks, Obama. That was the sentiment in the library community this week after the former president penned a thoughtful letter praising and thanking librarians for standing tall against the ongoing organized political effort to ban books.
"As I’ve said before, not only is it important for young people from all walks of life to see themselves represented in the pages of books, but it’s also important for all of us to engage with different ideas and points of view," Obama wrote. "Nobody understands that more than you, our nation’s librarians. In a very real sense, you’re on the front lines—fighting every day to make the widest possible range of viewpoints, opinions, and ideas available to everyone. Your dedication and professional expertise allow us to freely read and consider information and ideas, and decide for ourselves which ones we agree with. That’s why I want to take a moment to thank all of you for the work you do every day—work that is helping us understand each other and embrace our shared humanity."
The former president also appeared in some clever social campaigns with libraries on TikTok, amplified the ALA's Unite Against Book Bans coalition, and shouted out the Digital Public Library of America's Banned Book Club, which just launched. Oh, and he also released his summer reading list. It's a welcome show of support in a fight that, now more than two years in, shows no sign of slowing down.
Meanwhile, librarians this week are showing their support to another president: ALA president Emily Drabinksi. Some 1,800 librarians and counting have signed an open letter calling out a decision by the Montana State Library Commission to sever ties with the ALA over an old tweet in which Drabinski referred to herself as "Marxist lesbian." And unlike the ALA's official response to the Montana commissioners last week, this response actually defends Drabinksi, insisting she will be "a compassionate, capable, and courageous" ALA president. "Librarians and other library workers need to stand against bigotry. Marxism is an economic philosophy, not a political platform. Turning this into a partisan issue resulting in a minority-led dissolution of a longstanding nourishing partnership—a move which will harm the future of libraries and library professional associations in the state of Montana—is deeply misguided and uninformed." You can add your name to the open letter here.
In American Libraries, Drabinksi shares her first column as ALA president. "Many of us are asked to do more with less, working harder with fewer resources to meet growing community needs," she writes. "These coming months will ask even more of us as we organize and mobilize together on behalf of our libraries, our patrons, our communities, and, importantly, ourselves. We must build the collective power necessary to preserve and expand the public good. As your new ALA president, I can’t wait to do that work with all of you."
Meanwhile, in Missouri, local station KZRG reports that Republican secretary of state and gubernatorial candidate Jay Ashcroft will also also cut ties with ALA. Ashcroft, in a letter, accused Deborah Caldwell-Stone, ALA's director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom, of encouraging libraries to violate the First Amendment by suggesting, in a webinar, that meeting room policies could be used to "stifle a faith-based publisher from holding story hours in libraries across the country." Ashcroft, who as secretary of state oversees the state library, informed ALA he will cease future payments to ALA. “[My] office cannot continue to support an organization that does not protect the First Amendment rights of Missourians and refuses to follow its own governing documents,” Ashcroft wrote. “My hope is that you (ALA) reconsider this blatantly political stance, abide by your own principles, and protect the rights of Missourians.”
Jay Ashcroft, First Amendment protector? The St. Louis Post-Dispatch this week scoffs at that idea with a blistering editorial slamming Ashcroft's vague new library obscenity rule in libraries as a "cynical campaign to censor local librarians" and "a non-issue he pulled out of thin air to endear himself to right-wing voters" in his run for governor. "It’s important to note there was no library scandal or problematic trend that triggered all this. There’s been no rash of pornography discovered in the reference aisle, no attempts to sexually 'groom' children in the storybook section, no muzzling of parental complaints at the front desk," the editorial notes. "Like other Republican officials’ attacks on schoolteachers over non-existent issues like 'critical race theory,' Ashcroft has deliberately vilified an entire class of low-paid, dedicated public servants—librarians—for no reason but his own political ambition. He needed a culture-war straw man he could pummel to convince Republican primary voters to nominate him for governor. That he chose libraries, of all things, should disqualify him for that or any other office."
Over at The Conversation, the great Nicole Cooke, Augusta Baker Endowed Chair at the University of South Carolina, has an article on how book banning campaigns are impacting library education. "To balance the needs of everyone in the community, libraries have collection development policies as well as reconsideration and withdrawal policies that guide librarians in selecting new books and materials and removing those that are outdated," she writes. "But with the current controversies about racially diverse and LGBTQIA+ books, policies are no longer enough to demonstrate the integrity of professionally curated library collections. Neither policies nor book reviews nor professional expertise are keeping library workers from being called pedophiles, groomers, indoctrinators, and pornographers. They are being harassed, receiving death threats and being fired. Libraries have been sued and library workers are so threatened and harassed that they are getting sick and leaving their careers."
In Utah, local affiliate KSL.com reports on the push for a union at the Salt Lake City Library. "The library system is the city's only department where employees are not under a collective bargaining agreement," the report notes. "In a letter to colleagues on April 24, Salt Lake City Public Library Workers United leaders wrote that 'the status quo does not benefit everyone,' resulting in 'burnout and low morale.' They added that their concerns are often 'minimized or ignored while leadership enacts policies unilaterally' and that "many of us struggle with housing instability, food insecurity and lack of access to health care.'"
Also in Utah, the Deseret News reports that even as another school board voted to pull three books from school library shelves, voters polled by the outlet continue to be broadly against pulling books. "37% of the 801 Utahns surveyed by Dan Jones & Associates support local school boards removing books from libraries and classrooms while 59% were opposed," the report notes. Notably, the margin between those with strong feelings was even more stark. Some 15% strongly support pulling books from library shelves, while 39% strongly oppose.
Over at Book Riot, Kelly Jensen leads off her weekly censorship roundup with a look at how narratives are created around book bans in our fractious media landscape. "As it stands, right-wing 'activists' are doing a bang up job of creating a fake controversy, pushing it through the media, keeping their names in the mouths of those outlets, then reaping (fake) benefits from the outrage cycle," she writes.
In Texas, the Austin American Statesman has a piece on the uncertainty facing schools and booksellers since the passage of HB 900, a new law that, among its provisions, bans school kids from accessing books deemed to be sexually explicit and forces publishers and vendors to implement a rating system for books. “We don't ask every person why they're using books,” Charley Rejsek, CEO of Book People, an independent bookshop in Austin, told the paper. “That really is business overreach. It doesn't feel like something we can or want to do.”
From the Boston Globe, Shira Schoenberg has an editorial that calls for strengthening state support for libraries and librarians. "If lawmakers are serious about enhancing student access to educational materials, requiring all schools have a librarian and providing funding would be a huge step forward," Schoenberg writes. "What is most worrisome today is not what kids are reading—they can find worse on the internet. It’s what happens when they aren’t reading or when they can’t find the library books they need."
Berkeleyside reports on another story of support for libraries. Students at the University of California, Berkeley, have ended their protest that sought to keep the school's anthropology library off the chopping block. "After nearly three months occupying UC Berkeley’s anthropology library, a beleaguered group of protesters packed up their sleeping bags last week and declared victory," the report states. "UC Berkeley has agreed to keep about 20,000 volumes on the shelves of the small library, preserving approximately 40% of the books currently in the space. The library will continue to serve the community, staffed by a student worker. But its main function as a circulating library is over. Patrons will be able to browse the collection, but they won’t be able to take the books home. For that, they will have to request books from the main stacks or an off-campus warehouse in Richmond."
And finally this week, the New York Times featured a powerful guest essay by author Emily St. James, who lays out exactly what is at stake as the politically organized attacks on libraries continue.
"In an age dominated by algorithms, going to a good library feels a little like replenishing your brain with the variety of all that is available to you in the world," St. James writes. "That very quality of libraries is what’s under attack. What might undo libraries is an insistence that they should reflect only one view of reality, one that has little room for queer people in particular. Thus, when right-wing complainants issue grievances about books featuring queer characters or programs like drag queen story hour, it’s not hard to see these pushes as part of a larger movement to limit or turn back the gains queer people have made in visibility over the last two decades. If the library is one of the last remaining pieces of our public square, then pushing queer people out of it (or into a quiet, unmentioned closet only the librarian can access) is, in effect, an attempt to push us out of public life."