As we reported in Publishers Weekly this week, the written opinion blocking Texas's controversial book rating law, HB 900, is appropriately grabbing national headlines. But don't overlook another significant court victory this week: the Seattle Times reports that the Dayton library in Columbia County, Wash., will survive after a county judge barred an effort by book banners to place a proposal to close the library on the November ballot.
Ruling from the bench, Columbia County Superior Court Commissioner Julie Karl told "a packed courtroom" that that the ballot measure was "unconstitutional, procedurally invalid," and that the "signature-gathering" by the group pushing the measure "was marred by potential criminal acts." One library advocate, Elise Severe, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, told reporters she was ecstatic with the court's decision. “I know many counties, many states, possibly the nation have been watching this," she told the Times. "I think this is a really good step in the right direction."
Indeed, while lawsuits over state laws are grabbing the headlines, the threat of book banners moving to defund or close libraries at the local level is still growing. As we reported last year, voters in Jamestown, Mich., voted not to renew their basic levy to keep the Patmos Library open (although it currently remains open for now, thanks to private fundraising), and the Craighead County Jonesboro Library was defunded by 50% in the wake of an 18-month campaign to ban LGBTQ books. And more recently, the community in Front Royal, Va. is wrestling with an effort by would-be book banners that could potentially shutter the Samuels Library.
John Chrastka, executive director of EveryLibrary, which worked with the Vote No in Columbia County, applauded Karl's decision. "Her ruling that the petition signature-gathering techniques employed by the pro-censorship group were plagued by fraud and potential criminal acts was a powerful statement about the lengths that book banners will go to advance their censorship agenda," he told PW. "We applaud and thank the plaintiffs from Neighbors United for Progress for standing up for the Constitution and their library. "
Meanwhile, via the venerable New Hampshire Union Leader, a guest editorial makes another important point about the actions of would-be book banners: they are costing taxpayers a lot of money. "Of course citizens should be able to offer feedback on public policy," the article states. "But we must have a sensible balance. Americans already enjoy numerous opportunities to share their concerns on policy through multiple channels including calls, emails, public hearings, and board and committee meetings. But the appropriate scope of feedback from constituents is policy, not the nitty-gritty of operational decisions. Indeed, we would be hard-pressed to identify any agency that allows a single person to initiate, without vetting, a time-consuming and expensive review process."
On that point, via the paywalled Denver Post: a Colorado county this week agreed to pay a $250,000 settlement to a librarian it wrongly fired two years ago after she balked at canceling programs for youth of color and LGBTQ teens. "Librarian Brooky Parks’ attorney Iris Halpern called the outcome of the Colorado Civil Rights Division’s investigation of High Plains Library District a 'groundbreaking settlement,' saying it is among the first public settlements in the nation amid a wave of conservative pushback against LGBTQ- and race-related library books and programming."
In Virginia, via the Williamsburg Yorktown Daily, a look at how the surge in book bans is taking a toll on authors as well as librarians. "When author Rosiee Thor discovered their book was challenged in a Virginia public library, the news was frustrating," the report notes. “I am left to assume the people making these challenges have either not read my work, believe depicting LGBTQIA people simply existing is pornographic, or both,” Thor told reporters.
Wisconsin Public Radio reports that four members of the Iron River Public Library board have been removed after "an anonymous group of residents" moved to pull transgender or LGBTQ+ related books off the shelves. "The board voted unanimously to remove four members from the Iron River Library Board, citing conflicts with state statutes," the report states. "The board members who were removed, along with some residents, called the decision a convenient excuse amid controversy over requests to remove books from library shelves."
In Illinois, local affiliate WSPY reports that the Yorkville Board of Education voted to remove Bryan Atevenson's award-winning book Just Mercy from the high school English curriculum because it is too controversial. "The topic had come up after a complaint that the book violated district policy," the report notes, adding that the book is still available in the school library—at least for now.
At Book Riot, Kelly Jensen leads off her weekly censorship roundup with a look at "student-run, student-organized groups" fighting book bans. "Although book censorship impacts every single one of us—it impacts our democracy on a nationwide level—it is the students who are most impacted by decisions made by school boards, library boards, library and school workers, politicians, local officials, and right-wing bad actors," Jensen writes. Notably, she includes a student group from Yorkville. "The to-be-named group of students in suburban Chicago will begin their initiatives on Monday, September 25, addressing the school board," she reports.
The Alabama Political Reporter reports that Nancy Pack, director of the Alabama Public Library Service, is defending the state's membership in ALA with facts and reason amid attacks by right wing groups. "While I understand the concerns raised nationally and by local groups in Alabama, I believe that severing ties with the American Library Association (ALA) would be a disservice to the principles of intellectual freedom, education, and democratic discourse that our society holds dear," Pack wrote. Pack also pushed back on those who have seized on ALA president's two year-old, deleted "Marxist lesbian" tweet to attack ALA. "[T]he ALA is dedicated to promoting open dialogue and the exchange of ideas, which are fundamental to a healthy democracy. Disengaging from the ALA based on a singular ideological disagreement could be seen as an attempt to stifle intellectual diversity and limit the range of perspectives that Alabama residents are exposed to."
The Guardian reports on a new 52-page document released by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), stating that a "good library" should "encompass controversial issues" and that "material should not be rejected solely on the basis that it is considered contentious." The guidelines urge librarians to “place principle above personal opinion, and reason above prejudice,” when selecting library materials, and says that staff should never act as a censor. It adds that rather than being neutral, librarians should be “aware of their biases.”
In Utah, NewsRadio 102.7 takes a look at the 125-year history of Salt Lake City's Main Library. "Made up of massive windows and a giant external staircase, the library does exactly what the architects of the building intended: in their words, 'the library is an extroverted building, reaching across the site to pull in and engage the public and downtown,' " the article notes.
And finally this week, with Banned Books Week kicking off a week from Sunday, The American Library Association has announced that reading advocate, writer, and television and film star LeVar Burton will lead this year’s Banned Books Week as honorary chair. Burton will headline a live virtual conversation with Banned Books Week youth honorary chair Da’Taeveyon Daniels about censorship and advocacy at 8:00 p.m. ET on October 4, to be streamed live on Instagram. This year's Banned Books Week will run October 1–7, 2023. Visit BannedBooksWeek.org for more details.
“Books bring us together. They teach us about the world and each other. The ability to read and access books is a fundamental right and a necessity for life-long success,” said Burton, in a statement. “But books are under attack. They’re being removed from libraries and schools. Shelves have been emptied because of a small number of people and their misguided efforts toward censorship. Public advocacy campaigns like Banned Books Week are essential to helping people understand the scope of book censorship and what they can do to fight it."