On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing entitled "Book Bans: Examining How Censorship Limits Liberty and Literature." It was not pretty.

After a serious opening statement by Illinois Senator and committee chair Dick Durbin, the hearing detoured into a 25-minute partisan debate over who bears the blame for the current migrant crisis, and it got worse from there. There were flashes of serious discussion: Illinois secretary of state Alexi Giannoulias proved himself to once again be an eloquent and passionate defender of the freedom to read, and University of Illinois professor Emily Knox did her best to explain to lawmakers how libraries work. But the headlines from the hearing revolve around the Republican witnesses and senators, who used the very same shock tactic taken directly from school and library board meetings across the country: reading aloud cherry-picked graphic sexual passages from banned books.

Nola.com called Louisiana Senator John Kennedy's reading from George Johnson's All Boys Aren't Blue "the audiobook nobody asked for." But as the report notes, that's the point. "While the book does include some explicit sections (which is to be expected given the topic), it is largely concerned with topics like identity, consent, sexual assault and race—all of which young queer (and frankly, straight) people grapple with on a daily basis in this country," the report states.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Sun-Times reports yet another troubling wave of bomb threats and false reports of mass shootings targeting libraries in the Chicago area this week. "A rash of threats emerged across Illinois after Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias testified Tuesday about the dangers of banning books before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C.," the Sun-Times reports. "The national culture clash over library book bans has been a simmering political issue in local and federal political campaigns—but it’s now sparking threats of violence. 'This has got to stop. Right now,' Giannoulias said in a statement Wednesday after bomb threats prompted libraries to close in Chicago and surrounding suburbs. 'Make no mistake, these bomb threats received by Illinois libraries are part of a disturbing trend that has been escalating, starting with book bans and graduating to harassing and criminalizing librarians—and now to endangering the lives of innocent people,' Giannoulias said on Wednesday."

In a statement, the ALA condemned the threats: "Libraries are meant to be a safe haven for our communities, welcoming of people everywhere who believe in the peaceful exchange of ideas. These ongoing and rising attacks on America’s libraries pose an existential threat to the cornerstone of our democracy," the statement reads. "ALA continues to call upon community leaders and elected officials to stand with libraries and others who promote the free and democratic exchange of ideas and to denounce those who would undermine it."

The Washington Post reports on the ongoing right-wing attacks on the American Library Association, noting that at Tuesday's hearing Utah Senator Mike Lee used an out of context clip from Deborah Caldwell Stone, director of the ALA's Office of Intellectual Freedom, to argue that the ALA's "goal" is to "sexualize" children and provide minors with "sexually explicit" material. "The American Library Association is facing a partisan firefight unlike anything in its almost 150-year history," Hannah Natanson writes. "Like Lee, politicians and parents on the right increasingly paint the association...as a defender of pornographic literature for children—tying their allegations into a broader conservative movement that asserts school libraries are filled with sexually explicit, inappropriate texts."

I ran because I care a whole lot about libraries, and I care a ton about library workers. And I know what kind of stress we’re under.

An example from Florida: the local Citrus County Chronicle reports this week on how the County Commission has cut the library's $275 ALA membership fee (and apparently declined to let residents donate the membership fee). "The reasons: the ALA’s leftist stance on LGBTQ books and drag queen story hours and the fact that its president is self-professed Marxist," the report notes, referring to a since deleted tweet by ALA president Emily Drabinski.

Also this week, Drabinski addressed her deleted 2022 tweet and many other subjects, including the attacks on the ALA, in a podcast for the New York Times' Ezra Klein Show. When host Tressie McMillan Cottom asked why Drabinksi ran for ALA president in such a politically sensitive moment, Drabinksi neatly turned the question around. "Why not me? Why not me?," she asked. "I ran because I care a whole lot about libraries, and I care a ton about library workers. And I know what kind of stress we’re under. I see it in my colleagues. I see it in the people that I talk to. I’ve been a librarian for a long time. I know librarians all over the country. And there’s not one of them that feels secure in their ability to do the jobs that we want to do. And I thought that if I ran for president of the American Library Association, making a public argument about the importance, both of libraries as public institutions that secure the public good and library workers as the people who are responsible for that and need the kind of support to expand that work, that whatever happened, it would be good to have that public argument out in the world."

The Oaklandside reports on a new internal report showing that library workers at the Oakland Public Library are feeling more unsafe than ever. "In his report, consultant Joseph Maurer wrote that the library’s ethic of inclusivity is one of the reasons the institution enjoys 'widespread support' from members of the community, but that this expectation also places 'enormous pressure' on library staff who often find themselves needing to navigate sensitive situations with mentally and emotionally unstable patrons," the article states. "Overall, he found that morale within Oakland’s libraries is low. Many staffers feel 'more unsafe' than before, unsupported by upper management, and lack the training required to effectively work with people experiencing mental health and other crises. Staff who were interviewed said these conditions got worse during the pandemic. Some also reported experiencing verbal attacks based on their racial, sexual, or gender identity."

Over at Book Riot, Kelly Jensen leads her weekly censorship column by discussing how school book fairs are increasingly in the sights of book banners. It's a key observation, especially after lawmakers and witnesses at Tuesday's Senate hearing repeatedly insisted that no one is banning books because the books remain for sale. "But for all that book banners claim it is okay for the books they do not like to be sold, the reality is they are not okay with that either. In the last several years, there have been attempts to censor the materials made available at school book fairs," Jensen writes. "Try not to be surprised as more and more hysteria surrounds book fairs as the 2023-2024 school year unfolds. It’s been happening, and with the new wave of manufactured outrage, it’s going to keep happening."

In Alabama, AL.com reports on comments made by Nancy Pack, director of the Alabama Public Library Service, after governor Kay Ivey sent a September 1 letter to the agency raising concerns about allegedly inappropriate books for children in public libraries (as well as concerns about the ALA). In comments made on a show called Capitol Journal, Pack insisted decisions about what libraries collect must remain community decisions, and defended diversity. "Pack said it’s important for libraries to strike a balance and allow children from all backgrounds to see their families and experiences represented in books too," the report notes.

Nevertheless, local NBC affiliate WSFA 12 reports that the Alabama Public Library Service this week voted to post on their website a list of titles submitted by the public considered to be "inappropriate" for children. "The vote on this new feature wasn’t without passionate debate from supporters and opponents," the report notes.

In Maryland, CBS News reports that the Carroll County school board is stepping into review more than 50 books alleged by Moms for Liberty to be inappropriate for minors. "Some of the books that are on the ban list are well-known works of literature. They include The Handmaid's Tale and the Bluest Eye, which was the first novel written by Toni Morrison who went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature."

The Washington Post reports on two Kansas librarians who are now suing after being fired after putting up "two rainbow-colored displays near the entrance of the public library in Sterling, Kansas—their way of celebrating autism and neurodiversity," the article states. In a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for Kansas, the librarians accuse one of the board members "of waging an illegal campaign to censor their pro-autism displays because she mistakenly thought they were promoting 'LGBTQ agendas.'”

And finally this week, The New Republic has a thoughtful, in-depth report on the right wing attacks on libraries (and the ALA, and ALA president Emily Drabinski) and the notable parallels of these attacks to the past. It's a must-read.

"Though this movement was first shorthanded as an organized effort to ban books, the forces that quickly arrayed themselves always intended to go substantially further, all the way to an attack on the existence of public libraries themselves. What is now evident is that it was always conceived as a witch hunt, one that is blatantly reviving anti-Communist rhetoric—a Marxist, in the library!—redolent of the anti-gay panic that was entwined within the twentieth century’s infamous Red Scare in the United States," writes Melissa Gira Grant.

"What does it mean today to call a lesbian a lesbian, or a Marxist a Marxist, when one might think those words just don’t carry the same charge they did during the mid-twentieth century? Rest assured, it is the same now as it ever was: to force people to distance themselves from those 'others' and to force these accused undesirables to live in a state of suspicion and threat," Grant cogently writes. "Perhaps what’s also behind this present revival of the Red and Lavender Scare at the public library is that the truth is right in front of us. Libraries are a place where queer and trans kids might feel freer. Libraries are like a kind of social collider: a space intended for people to freely cross paths with ideas and others unlike themselves. Libraries are tools for getting people the things they need and want for free. It’s these truths that demand our defense."

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.