Tuesday was election day across the country, and amid the surge of book bans and legislation aimed at libraries and the freedom to read, this year's crop of off-year elections was as important as any in recent memory. We turn to EveryLibrary (which does amazing work supporting libraries at the local level, and was once again involved with a number of campaigns) for its excellent election night wrap-up.
"EveryLibrary tracked over 60 local library elections, annual budget votes, and statewide ballot measures that impacted libraries on the Tuesday, November 7, 2023, ballots across nine states. Voters overwhelmingly voted in favor of libraries," the reports states. "As we look ahead to 2024, library leaders should understand that with the right kind of work and support, even communities facing strident book bans and censorship fights can succeed on Election Day when we engage with voters."
Among the highlights of this year's elections, EveryLibrary reports:
- The Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library passed a 10-year levy renewal and increase, with 56% voting yes
- Voters in Ashland, Ohio, approved a library levy with the support of 65% of voters despite opposition from book banners
- Pella, Iowa, defeated a measure to eliminate the local library board proposed by a local group of book banners
- Voters in Jamestown, Mich., in a remarkable turnaround, passed a three-year stop-gap levy to continue operations at the Patmos Library, after two defeats at the hands of book banners last year threatened to close the library
Bridge Michigan reports on the good news for the Patmos Library after book-banning opponents garnered national headlines last year by rallying to defund the library. "Voters in Ottawa County’s Jamestown Township approved an operating millage Tuesday for the Patmos Library by a 63% to 37% margin, with all votes counted, ending one of Michigan’s most contentious culture wars over books," the report states.
In Iowa, local affiliate KCRG reports that book banners and Moms for Liberty–backed candidates lost big at the polls on election day. "Iowa State University political science professor Dave Peterson says Moms for Liberty–backed candidates both across the state and the country performed poorly in school board elections," the article states. " 'This is, I think, a pretty clear signal about sort of where Iowans are on a lot of these concerns. You know, Iowans seem to think the schools have been maybe over politicized or that the issues Moms for Liberty are raising are a little extreme,' Peterson said."
Newsweek also seized on the reportedly poor showing by book banners and groups like Moms for Liberty. "GOP candidates in Virginia, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kansas suffered major losses Tuesday night in several local elections where voters rejected anti-trans policies by voting against Republicans in school board races," the report notes. "The results of the 2023 election suggest that a tide is turning against the so-called 'parents rights' movement, which gained momentum two years ago and has since dominated the national conversation about education and American politics."
The Associated Press has a similar take. "Voters in some of the highest-profile school board elections across the U.S. rebuked conservative candidates in local school board elections who want to ban books and restrict classroom conversations on race and gender," the AP reports. "The American Federation of Teachers said candidates publicly endorsed by conservative groups such as Moms for Liberty and the 1776 Project lost about 70% of their races nationally in elections this week—a tally those groups dispute."
Also from the Associated Press, a report on how librarians fired over standing up to book banners are fighting back by filing workplace discrimination claims with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: "So far, it’s a wait-and-see whether the claims will succeed—and set a new precedent—in the struggle between teachers and librarians around the country who oppose book bans and conservative activists who say some books are inappropriate for young minds."
Independent journalist Judd Legum at Popular Information reports on a Moms for Liberty activist and school board candidate calling police on librarians for sharing an allegedly "pornographic" book with a high schooler in Santa Rosa County, Fla.. "The 'pornography' at issue is actually a popular young adult novel, Storm and Fury, by Jennifer L. Armentrout," the report notes. "Tapley told Popular Information that any book that has a 'sex scene' is pornography." This is interesting too: Popular Information contact the chair of Santa Rosa Moms for Liberty for comment and was told that the request "needed to be routed through the national Moms for Liberty organization." What's that about being grassroots?
The National Council of Teachers of English reports that the group's leadership met with Scholastic Book Fairs brass about next steps after the company's controversial, and soon to be scrapped, effort to segregate diverse books. "Last week, two members of the Presidential Team and our Executive Director met with Scholastic’s CEO, Peter Warwick, to discuss our objections to their book separation policy and to censorship as a whole," the statement reads. "Although Scholastic retracted their policy prior to our meeting, we felt it was still important to express the concerns we have heard from you, our members, as well as the concerns we have had as NCTE’s leaders. In doing so we emphasized that publishers should never acquiesce to the work of policymakers and others who are making laws and regulations that promote censorship and compromise the values of NCTE." To gather more insights, NCTE has created a form to gather feedback from members on censorship issues.
At Book Riot, Kelly Jensen leads off her must-read weekly censorship roundup by pointing out that her book, Body Talk: 37 Voices Explore Our Radical Anatomy, was banned in Clay County, Fla., "in direct retaliation" for Jensen's reporting on the county’s lead book banner. The stated rationale for banning Jensen's book: “Hit piece.” More importantly, though, she contrasts her experience to that of comedian Steve Martin, who made headlines this week by telling reporters he was "proud" that his book Shopgirl was also banned in Clay County because it would sell more copies. "Not only is that bullshit, it’s ignorant," Jensen writes, "and once again pushes the anti-censorship movement back, just like Stephen King did in his infamous tweet telling kids to get to the public library if a book is banned at their school (the public libraries are targets, too)."
In Pennsylvania, Lancaster Online reports that Olympic figure skating legend Johnny Weir has stepped up to provide funding for his hometown library, the Quarryville Library Center, after Fulton Township supervisors sought to defund the borough’s library because it offers materials about LGBTQ+ life and culture. And Weir's generosity has sparked an outpouring of support. "Weir, an avid supporter of both his hometown and LGBTQ+ causes, announced over social media Saturday that he would cover the township’s annual $1,000 allocation to the library for as long as he could, saying via Instagram that he wanted to 'help save a community that raised me and to make sure the library represents everyone, not just the few,' " the article states. "Since posting a link to the donation page for Quarryville Library Center in his Instagram feed, library board President Chris Waite said there has been a substantial influx of giving."
EdWeek has a good piece on what students miss out on when their schools cut school librarians. "It’s difficult to quantify all the potential benefits that students miss out on when they lack regular access to active certified school librarians or library media specialists, as they are sometimes called. But research and anecdotes show the range of losses extends from basic literacy lessons and the opportunity to learn research skills to powerful collaborations that can engage students and inspire a love of reading."
On the tech front, Poynter has an article arguing that Google and Meta owe news publishers about $14 billion a year for use of their content. "Big tech companies have resisted paying traditional licensing and copyright fees and are not forthcoming about providing audience traffic and impression numbers," the article states. "Meanwhile, news deserts have become a global problem as outlets struggle with the loss of revenue, although some—like the New York Times and the Guardian—have been able to offset the losses with subscriptions and other income."
And finally this week, Broadband Communities reports that the FCC has formally proposed allowing schools and libraries to use funding from its E-Rate program for Wi-Fi hotspots and wireless internet access services that can be used outside the premises. Librarians will recall that FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel made news from the stage at the 2023 ALA Annual conference in Chicago by announcing this very initiative.
“During the pandemic, we saw the power of community-driven efforts to help close the digital divide. Many schools and libraries found ways to support internet access by loaning out Wi-Fi hotspots. Some used this agency’s Emergency Connectivity Fund to do so. The program made a great down payment on closing the digital divide, but it was a one-time effort. Now, it’s time for a permanent solution,” Rosenworcel said in a statement. “Supporting today’s libraries and schools means updating the E-Rate program to ensure communities can lean without limits and keep connected.”