As the New York Times reports, this week brought us something of a historic moment: a joint statement from a coalition of 13 presidential libraries and museums affirming that "democracy holds us together." While the prose of the statement itself is fairly unremarkable, it is remarkable (although not at all surprising to librarians, teachers, publishers and writers) that these venerable institutions felt the need to broadly, publicly defend democracy and the quintessential American value of pluralism.
"As a diverse nation of people with different backgrounds and beliefs, democracy holds us together," the statement reads. "We are a country rooted in the rule of law, where the protection of the rights of all people is paramount. At the same time, we live among our fellow citizens, underscoring the importance of compassion, tolerance, pluralism, and respect for others." The statement calls on elected officials to "lead by example and govern effectively in ways that deliver for the American people."
In Alabama, AL.com shares a September 1 letter from Alabama governor Kay Ivey to state library service director Nancy C. Pack expressing concern about allegedly inappropriate content in public libraries, and taking particular aim at the ALA. "Rather than supporting Alabama families, out-of-state library groups like the American Library Association appear to be making the situation worse," Ivey writes, regurgitating an increasingly popular right wing strategy to attack and mischaracterize the ALA's efforts to defend the freedom to read. The letter lists nine questions for Pack to answer by September 13, the last three pertaining to the ALA.
In a statement, Pack responded politely to Ivey. "Alabama's public libraries will always value parental involvement in overseeing the materials their children borrow, and many libraries already have policies in place that require parental supervision when a child checks out items," she writes. "The intrinsic value of Alabama's public libraries to its citizens cannot be overstated. They are more than just buildings filled with books; they are dynamic, inclusive, and essential institutions that empower, enrich, and unite our communities."
Meanwhile, the Montgomery Advertiser reports on the debate in one Alabama community specifically called out by Ivey in her letter. "The Prattville City Council sided against a resolution Tuesday that could have changed rules for how books are handled at the Autauga-Prattville Public Library, or threatened its funding," the article notes. "A group called Clean Up Prattville wants the books removed from the children's section and placed behind the counter where anyone checking the books out would have to ask for them, or have some other restricted access to the books. The group opposed to Clean Up Prattville wants the books to remain where they are. For the library board’s part, it has decided to keep the books where they are currently displayed. 'I think it's best left up to the parents and what they feel is appropriate for their children to read,' said board member Wayne Lambert in a previous interview."
But following that failed vote, local affiliate WSFA.com reports that the Prattville Library will now institute an age requirement. "Effective September 15, children under the age of 15 will not be allowed in the library without adult supervision following public claims of books containing sexually explicit material in the children’s section," the article notes. "The current library policy mandates children 12 and under to be under adult supervision."
The Associated Press has a broader article on conservative lawmakers in a number of states taking aim at ALA. "Wyoming librarians are being 'constantly critiqued' but they—not the ALA—are the ones who control their collections based on community needs," Wyoming Library Association president Conrrado Saldivar told reporters. "ALA is not telling our library workers, our collection development librarians, you have to have this book in your library collection," Saldivar added.
In South Carolina, the State reports that South Carolina’s superintendent of education has ended the state’s relationship with the S.C. Association of School Librarians, citing the use of “politicized rhetoric” to oppose book bans. Superintendent Ellen Weaver said the organization "had shown a 'lack of discernment' on the issue by hosting an advocacy toolkit on its website from the American Library Association, testifying about library 'censorship' before the teacher recruitment and retention task force, and sending letters to school board members across the state."
Via local NPR affiliate KNKX.org, a lawsuit has been filed challenging a ballot measure to dissolve a local library in Washington state over claims that it offers pornographic books. "The public library, based in Dayton, is the only library in the county. If the ballot measure succeeds, librarians said this would be the first time in the nation that a library would be dissolved following book challenges," the report notes.
In Oregon, local affiliate KGW8 reports that libraries and schools across the state reported a record number of book challenges in 2022-2023. "A new report shows that 45 challenged incidents were reported within that timeframe. A total of 85 titles were challenged in those incidents, alongside events and programs, setting a new record. The previous record of 70 titles challenges was set back in 1992-1993," the report notes. "It's not just books that face challenges. Displays, events and programs are scrutinized as well. For example, the report lists seven challenges to Pride displays and one challenge to a library offering materials in Spanish."
In a story we've been following in this column, The Northern Virginia Daily reports that the future of the Samuels Library in Front Royal, Virginia, continues to hang in the balance after community members packed a board of supervisors meeting this week. "Debate about the library, its collection, funding, and operations began this spring when a group filed requests to remove 140 books from the library, with the vast majority of the books having LGBTQ characters or dealing with LGBTQ themes. Members of that group, which calls itself Clean Up Samuels, asked supervisors in a June public hearing to withhold library funding until the books were removed, to replace the library staff, and to force the library to sever ties with the American Library Association. The group is now asking the county to take over operations at the library by installing trustees appointed by the board of supervisors," the report notes. "Kelsey Lawrence, spokesperson for Save Samuels, a group that supports the library’s policies, said Tuesday that opponents of the library’s operations and collection do not represent the majority of the community."
At Book Riot, Kelly Jensen begins her weekly censorship column by looking ahead to Banned Book Weeks and pointing out what really matters. "Although Banned Books Week can be as annoying as it is important, it can and should be reframed as an opportunity to revisit library policies and procedures to ensure that the First Amendment Rights of every individual within a community are being considered, addressed, and honored," Jensen writes. "At the end of the day, we know none of this is about books. It’s about people." Jensen this week also wrote about the saga at the Samuels Library.
Via the Verge, huge news this week: the U.S. Senate has confirmed Anna Gomez to serve a five-year term as an FCC commissioner. "The Senate has voted to confirm Anna Gomez as the fifth commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, breaking a deadlock that has lasted for most of President Joe Biden’s first term in office, the Verge reports. "As a Democratic commissioner, she’s poised to help Chair Jessica Rosenworcel pass parts of the Biden administration’s agenda that have no support from Republican commissioners, particularly restoring net neutrality rules that were rolled back under the Trump administration." In a statement, ALA praised the confirmation. "Gomez's confirmation is a victory in restoring the FCC's full complement of commissioners to advance its work promoting access, competition, innovation and investment in broadband services and facilities for all Americans. "
Via Library Journal, congratulations to the Page Public Library, in Arizona, winner of LJ's 2023 Best Small Library in America award. "Plenty of what the Page Library does looks, on the surface, like traditional work: book and media checkouts, expanded children’s and teen services, programming and outreach for the local senior center. But other needs have been systematically addressed, as needed, in recent years. The library has helped Canyonlands Urgent Care get out the word about a Naloxone vending machine set up at the city’s community center, and stocked items for checkout like bicycles, camping and pickleball equipment, and baking pans. Coconino Community College asks the library to help with customer service classes or to give instruction on APA or MLA formats. The library, college, and local Marriott partner on a job fair most recently attended by 45 businesses and more than 400 job seekers. And that’s just the beginning..."
And finally this week, via the Philadelphia Inquirer, a lovely tribute to Beatrice Bethel Johnson, the first Black librarian in the School District of Philadelphia, who died at the age of 96.
"She oversaw the school library at Martha Washington for more than two decades and made encyclopedias and other educational material readily available to interested students and parents until her retirement in 1993. She made it a point to teach Black history in addition to the traditional elementary school subjects, contributed local historical research to the U.S. Library of Congress, and discussed important civil rights issues of the day with her pupils," the obit notes. "'Her love for reading and books was her life’s calling,'” her daughter, Adriana Bethel-Hibbler, and longtime friend, Karyn Brockington Conway, said in a tribute. “Every child that came into her presence left with a higher sense of themselves, their culture, and infinite possibilities of the life that was ahead of them.'”