Talk about an October surprise: as I reported for Publishers Weekly, the sudden departure of ALA executive director Tracie D. Hall has landed like a bombshell in the middle of Banned Books Week.
At press time, there are few details as to what spurred Hall's sudden (or at least suddenly announced) resignation. But as a number of librarians have pointed out, it's a curious headline from ALA in a week when the attention is supposed to be on banned books and the librarians and library workers (as well as the authors, publishers, readers, and advocates) doing the work on the front lines.
In a statement, ALA officials said Hall leaves behind "a string of key accomplishments," including her defense of the freedom to read, where Hall had become a recognizable public figure with her mantra: "free people read freely." Hall had also won numerous accolades in recent months, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Book Foundation, a place on the Time magazine TIME100 list, the magazine's annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world, and on Forbes' 50 over 50 list. But her resignation comes at a fraught moment for the association, which is facing a coordinated political backlash in a number of states.
Also in Publishers Weekly, the Fifth Circuit court of appeals will allow Texas's controversial new book rating law, HB 900, to take effect after all, despite a district court finding the law to be “a web of unconstitutionally vague requirements.” In a two-line decision issued on October 5, the Fifth Circuit declined to lift an administrative stay placed on a preliminary injunction ordered by judge Alan D. Albright, effectively allowing the law to be enforced pending a resolution of the state's appeal or further action by the court.
In Alabama, local affiliate NBC 15 reports that governor Kay Ivey believes the state's public library service director, Nancy Pack, is not doing enough to address inappropriate content in Alabama libraries, and offered three proposals of her own, including a proposal aimed at the ALA. "I cannot defend the ALA's position on 'intellectual freedom' insofar as it would entitle any child to access any book, however sexually explicit or otherwise inappropriate," Ivey said (which, we must point out, is not remotely true). "For this reason, I am entirely sympathetic to calls to disaffiliate our libraries from the ALA. At the same time, however, I recognize that the disaffiliation question requires a careful balancing between the ALA's clear shortcomings and whatever advantages it may offer Alabama libraries in ways that do not facilitate the exposure of children and youth to harmful content."
In Kansas, local affiliate 12 News reports that librarians at the Andover Public Library have received threats for its Banned Book Week messages. “You know, it was actually some good discourse but then it kind of turned into name calling and the library started receiving images of woodchippers, threats to destroy the books in our library. I thought it had gone too far. Staff were feeling uncomfortable,” the library director told reporters.
In Missouri, local affiliate KSHB has an in-depth report on the impact of Missouri's new rule governing age appropriate content in libraries. The good news: "Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft says following the enforcement of this new rule, the majority of libraries have complied, none have lost funding, and no books have been removed." The bad news: the rule has been costly and confusing and unnecessary. Dan Brower, library director at the Cass County Public Library, estimated that the rule has cost his library "thousands of dollars to implement," including printing out new library cards explaining the new policy. But his major complaint is broader. "Having the information available, it's paramount to a free society. If we had books only from one point of view in the library, everyone would think the same way—I don't think anyone wants that."
In Indiana, WSBT 22 reports on Indiana's controversial new law banning “harmful materials” from schools and libraries, House bill 1447, which could lead to the criminal prosecution of teachers and librarians. The law is set to take effect on January 1st, 2024.
Book Club Chicago is calling on Chicago's library leaders to create better protocols for dealing with threats amid a number of bomb scares received in recent months. "It’s not going away,” one Chicago Public Library associate told the publication. “We absolutely should take it seriously. I think people need to understand that library workers are dealing with a lot and it’s taking a toll on our mental health.”
With Kelly Jensen still out, Book Riot's weekly censorship news roundup goes for a different style this week, writing about a few important developments on the book banning front, including a recap of what's going on in Texas with HB 900, the emotional toll the current environment is taking on librarians, and the financial toll it is taking on some authors. Also, today is the last day to get Book Riot’s e-book How to Fight Book Bans and Censorship on sale for $1.99. Well worth it.
USA Today has a report on BookLooks, the right wing book rating guide that is fueling book bans across the country. "In less than two years, BookLooks has become the go-to resource for anyone seeking to ban books, especially books about gay people or sexuality, from school and public libraries, according to researchers, library experts, and a USA TODAY analysis of book-ban attempts nationwide," the report states.
Nominations are open for Library Journal's new class of Movers & Shakers, and the editors are asking for your help in identifying emerging talents in the library world: "both great leaders and behind-the-scenes contributors who are providing inspiration and model programs for others," from "librarians and non-degreed library workers to publishers, vendors, coders, entrepreneurs, reviewers, and others who impact the library field." Nominations will close on October 23, 2023.
And finally this week, there's no shortage of Banned Books Week articles out there reflecting all the great work being done by librarians and freedom to read advocates, and the seriousness of the challenge. A quick Google search will do the trick (and you can always check out the Banned Books Week website). I'll just call out this one that caught my eye, from WTOP News in Virigina, entitled "What it’s like to be a Fairfax Co. librarian in an era of banned books."
"Deborah Smith-Cohen, assistant branch manager at Patrick Henry, said book bans and book challenges aren’t the same," the piece noted. "A few months ago, a mother approached Smith-Cohen about a book that she didn’t think should be in the juvenile section, because it bothered her daughter when she was reading it. So, Smith-Cohen pointed the mother to a website where she could have a meeting and make a formal statement saying it needed to be reconsidered. The mother never took those steps. That’s common, Smith-Cohen said," the piece notes. "The most common experience we have is that people need to be heard, that they’ve made the decision that a book is not appropriate for their child at this time, but they aren’t necessarily obsessed with making a decision for other parents or other children,” Smith-Cohen said. “Every book isn’t for every person,” she added.