Just hours after we published last week's column, a federal judge in Arkansas struck down two key provisions of Act 372, the state's controversial new 'Harmful to Minors' law. It's a major victory for freedom to read advocates. We reported on the decision for Publishers Weekly, but the 49-page opinion (in which judge Timothy L. Brooks, an Obama appointee, devotes an entire section to defending the work of libraries and librarians) is well worth reading.
“For more than a century, librarians have curated the collections of public libraries to serve diverse viewpoints, helped high school students with their term papers, made recommendations to book clubs, tracked down obscure books for those devoted to obscure pastimes, and mesmerized roomfuls of children with animated storytelling,” Brooks wrote. “So, the passage of Act 372 prompts a few simple, yet unanswered questions. For example: What has happened in Arkansas to cause its communities to lose faith and confidence in their local librarians? What is it that prompted the General Assembly’s newfound suspicion? And why has the State found it necessary to target librarians for criminal prosecution?”
Lots of reaction to the Arkansas decision online this week, including ABC News, which talked to Central Arkansas Library System executive director Nate Coulter, one of the lead plaintiffs in the suit. "I've been accused of being a groomer. Or that [librarians] are doing things to drive an agenda," Coulter told ABC's Brad Mielke. "But they are not telling children, 'This is what you ought to read if you want to try this out. I'll help you.' It's just not at all the way it happens. So, there is a huge misperception or misinformation being driven by the people who want to brandish librarians as somehow sexualizing children or creating alternatives for the values that the child's parents may have. That's just not happening."
Meanwhile, in Texas, a recently filed legal challenge by a coalition of booksellers and publishing industry associations to HB 900 is moving swiftly. A hearing on the plaintiff's motion to block the law from taking effect is now set for August 18, less than two weeks before the law's September 1 effective date. Among the its controversial provisions, the new Texas law requires library book vendors in the state to rate books based on "sexual" content, with books deemed sexually explicit to be banned from schools. The motion will be argued before judge Alan D. Albright, a Trump appointee.
PEN America released an open letter this week calling on school leaders in the Urbandale Community School District in Iowa to reverse an order to remove nearly 400 book from district classrooms." The move comes after passage of a vague new state law that requires libraries to develop “age-appropriate” collections and ban books that contain virtually any sexual content. An initial list circulated by administrators found some 400 titles to be in potential violation of the law, "including works by a diverse range of celebrated authors—among them Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Judy Blume, Albert Camus, James Joyce, and Toni Morrison—as well as children’s books like Mayor Pete, an illustrated biography of Pete Buttigieg by Rob Sanders, and several YA novels including The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and Looking for Alaska by John Green," PEN America notes.
As book banning efforts and attacks on libraries continue to hit the wall in court, in the political arena they are intensifying. On July 28, U.S. Senators Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Mike Braun (R-IN) wrote a letter to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) demanding an IMLS investigation of the American Library Association. There's so much wrong with the claims in the letter it's hard to read it as anything other than the political theater it is. But the letter's demand that "all current funds, as well as considerations for all future federal funds, to the ALA be immediately halted until such an investigation into the ALA’s conduct has concluded" is concerning.
In other ALA news, Forbes has named ALA executive director Tracie D. Hall to its 50 Over 50 list for 2023. The annual awards, produced in partnership with journalist Mika Brzezinski and her Know Your Value Initiative, celebrates women leaders. In its article (paywalled) Forbes praises Hall for "leading her fellow ‘warrior’ librarians in the fight of the century over book bans.
ALA is also weighing in this week on a school administrator's controversial plan in the Houston Independent School District to turn the school libraries into "discipline" centers. In an August 1 letter, ALA and AASL (American Association of School Librarians) officials urged the superintendent and school board to reconsider the plan. "To consider using the library space in HISD campuses as a discipline center rather than as a site for learning and literacy demonstrates a concerning disregard for the education of HISD’s children," the letter reads. "In fact, strong school libraries led by certified school librarians have the greatest impact on the very students who would be affected by the changes instituted by HISD, 'the most vulnerable and at-risk learners, including students of color, low-income students, and students with disabilities.'”
In Missouri, The Kansas City Star editorial board weighs in secretary of state Jay Ashcroft's vague new 'harmful to minors' rule, which is reportedly causing confusion among the state's librarians. "We previously expressed concern that Ashcroft’s new rule opens the door to book bans in Missouri. That’s still a problem, but the real effects may be more subtle if no less pernicious: A slight narrowing of library access here, a bit of self-censorship there."
Local affiliate KCTV5 has an explainer and looks at what some librarians are doing to comply with Ashcroft's new rules in Missouri. For example, the Scenic Regional Library is one of a number of Missouri libraries that "has chosen to expire the library cards of all minors" effective this week. "Scenic Regional Library Director Steven W. Campbell said that, after speaking with legal counsel, it was determined that there were 'not a lot of other good options' aside from the opt-in choice. The penalty for breaking the rule could be the loss of state funding, so it was important to Campbell that Scenic Regional stay well within bounds."
Over at Book Riot, Danika Ellis does this week's must-read censorship news column, and leads off by recalling how libraries were not always child-friendly places, and how book banners are making libraries increasingly child-unfriendly again. "Teachers are donating their classroom libraries to make sure they don’t violate new laws. Libraries are considering policies that don’t allow unattended teenagers in the doors, and don’t let children or teens have their own library cards. And as the number of 'acceptable' or 'safe' kids’ books shrink, as more and more books get challenged for every conceivable reason, why would kids want to come to the library in the first place? If they can’t find anything that represents their reality, why would they want to browse the shelves?"
In Wyoming, the Gillette News Record reports that, as threatened, the library board has fired longtime Campbell County Public Library director Terri Lesley. While no official reason was given for the termination, the firing comes after Lesley, who has reportedly been with the library for 27 years, balked at the board's suggestion that her staff should just "weed" books considered by some to be "'egregious" in terms of sexual content. The firing came after a heated public meeting in which Lesley's supporters vastly outnumbered her opponents, and apparently let their disapproval with the board's decision be known.
School Library Journal reports that librarian and freedom to read champion Amanda Jones has filed an appeal brief in her dismissed defamation case against two men who accused her of attempting to sexualize children after she spoke against banning LGBTQ books at a local library meetings last year. "On behalf of myself, and others who are unable to stand up for themselves, I am proud to announce that we have officially filed the first legal brief for my appeal in the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal. Should we not prevail on appeal, we will be appealing to the Louisiana Supreme Court," Jones reports, adding that all she is seeking in the case is "$1 and a public apology." In her brief, Jones argues that the judge erroneously dismissed the case based on disputed questions of fact and evidence. "A jury should decide this case, and this Court should let it."
Via the AFSCME website comes word that the library workers at the Sno-Isle Libraries in western Washington have successfully unionized. "Washington’s Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) verified supermajority support for a union among the workers and sent notification recognizing the union on July 25," the post reads. "The workers announced on May 19 they wanted to form a union to address issues such as unfair compensation, inadequate health and safety protocols, the eradication of discrimination and harassment, and to gain a voice in the library system’s decision-making process."
Bridge Michigan reports on a new effort to recruit "a citizen army" to defend the freedom to read. "On Tuesday, the Michigan Library Association launched a six-month campaign to encourage residents to join Mi Right to Read, a website that offers updates on book battles in libraries and recommends action, such as posting on social media, writing letters to local media and attending school and library board meetings," the report states.
And finally this week, Gothamist has a piece spotlighting the work of the teen council at the Brooklyn Public Library, which is helping to make banned books available to young readers nationwide through its Books Unbanned initiative.
"Teen councilmembers say they’ve learned a surprising lesson from out-of-state students: Books on the required reading list in many New York City schools are being banned elsewhere," the report states. "Miri Bawa, a 16-year-old from Bay Ridge, was among the local teens who said they had a newfound appreciation for living in New York City. 'I think it's just kind of crazy hearing about all the book bans,' said Bawa, who interns at the library. 'I think about my English teacher and the little library she had in her classroom. I can't really relate to that, because we had books … that were written by Black people and by queer people, and I think about how I'm sort of privileged to have the opportunity to read those books.'”