This week, Iowa became the latest legal battleground for book banning, with two lawsuits filed challenging SF 496, the state's new anti-LGBTQ+ law.
Signed by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds in May, SF 496 took effect this fall. Specifically, the law bans books with depictions of sex, written or visual, from school libraries, and prohibits instruction and materials involving “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” for students through sixth grade. In response, various Iowa school districts have already reportedly pulled hundreds of titles that contain LGBTQ+ characters, historical figures, or themes from schools.
Iowa alternative news and culture magazine Little Village has a comprehensive list of books reportedly pulled under the new law.
As we reported in Publishers Weekly, a November 30 lawsuit was filed by Penguin Random House along with four bestselling authors—Laurie Halse Anderson, John Green, Malinda Lo, and Jodi Picoult—five plaintiffs from the state of Iowa, and the Iowa State Education Association. "We know that not every book we publish will be for every reader, but we must protect the right for all Americans, including students, parents, caregivers, teachers, and librarians, to have equitable access to books and to continue to decide what they read," said Nihar Malaviya, PRH CEO, in a statement. Penguin Random House is now a direct plaintiff in two book banning suits after joining as a plaintiff in a lawsuit in Escambia County, Florida in May.
And two days earlier, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Iowa, together with Iowa Safe Schools—a nonprofit organization supporting LGBTQ and allied youth—seven Iowa families, and eight students ranging from the 4th to 12th grades, also sued. “The First Amendment does not allow our state or our schools to remove books or issue blanket bans on discussion and materials simply because a group of politicians or parents find them offensive,” said ACLU of Iowa staff attorney Thomas Story in a statement, adding that the law “has thrown the school year into chaos” as schools struggle to comply with the law.
The ACLU is now a plaintiff in three book banning suits, including a November 17 suit against the Matanuska-Susitna Borough (Mat-Su) school district north of Anchorage and a suit in Missouri over Senate Bill 775, a school library obscenity law that opponents also say forces librarians to censor their collections under the "threat of arbitrary enforcement of imprisonment or fines."
Among the most pernicious aspects of the law is a provision requiring school officials including teachers, librarians, and counselors to report to parents if their child is using a different name or pronouns. Staff who violate this provision face disciplinary action, including potential job loss and license revocation, regardless of whether this kind of “forced outing," as critics have called it, would knowingly expose a student to potential family rejection or abuse.
Both suits seek to have key provisions of the law declared unconstitutional.
In Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that lawmakers are debating measures that would "require public and school libraries to automatically notify parents within a day of the books and materials their children under 16 check out." Opponents say the move is not only not feasible but unnecessary, as there are already more tailored responses for parents to see what their kids are checking out.
The local Star News has an editorial on the proposals to require parental notification for book checkouts in Wisconsin libraries. "If parents want to know what their children are checking out of the library, they should be talking to their children and not changing the law to force library employees to serve as snitches or informants," the editorial states. "Forcing library staff into the role of serving as parental informants, no matter how well intentioned, is a step down a slippery slope to the state dictating what people may read or information they may access."
NPR has a piece on people who think libraries need to rate books. "The process of classifying books can be somewhat inconsistent," the article states. "But ultimately, local library staff make the final call about the books they buy and where they should go."
In Publishers Weekly, we covered the appeals court hearing this week over HB 900, which will decide whether a District Court decision blocking the forced book rating provision in Texas's controversial book rating law will stand.
The Texas Tribune, which has done excellent reporting on HB 900 since before the law was even introduced, also covered the hearing. "The Texas Legislature passed HB 900 earlier this year during a wave of efforts to restrict library materials that some parents and critics say explore themes that parents—and not publicly funded books—are better suited to address. Book bans have gained steam across the state since the law was passed, The Texas Tribune and ProPublica found."
In Arkansas, local ABC affiliate KATV reports on a panel discussion on book banning hosted by the Central Arkansas Library System, which successfully led a coalition of plaintiffs in suing to block two key provisions of Act 372, the state's new harmful to minors law in July. "The group agreed people in power are making decisions for libraries based on personal views, and not the best interest of its constituents," the report states.
The Alabama Political Reporter has details on how decisions were reached to relocate a number of books at a local library after governor Kay Ivey demanded libraries do more to keep allegedly inappropriate materials from kids.
At Book Riot, Kelly Jensen begins her weekly censorship column by looking at the next installment of a parent survey done in partnership with EveryLibrary. "No matter how loud the book banners may be and no matter how successful their rhetoric has been in some arenas, the vast majority of parents trust and respect library workers," the report notes.
Library Journal has a profile of Patty Hector, the Saline County, Ark., librarian fired for refusing to ban library books as directed by the local quorum court, who is now running for a seat on the court that directed her firing.
In Missouri, the Columbia Tribune reports that just over a year after forming its union, library workers at the Daniel Boone Regional Library have reached a tentative contract. "The contract increases the library’s cost-share for health insurance and provides staff with guaranteed annual raises of 5%, after placement on a new salary scale based on current labor market analysis and years of experience."
In Ohio, the Columbus Dispatch reports that the Pickerington Public Library has voted to unionize. "The new union includes 25 librarians and library staff and, like Like Worthington and Grandview Heights public libraries, which unionized in 2021 and 2022, respectively, will be part of the Ohio Federation of Teachers.
So much of the press around libraries today understandably focuses on book bans, but a piece in the Detroit Free Press reminds us this week of all that libraries do in their communities, part of an effort by the Detroit Public Library to get 41,000 more people to sign up for library cards by the close of National Library Week next April.
And finally this week, ALA announced award-winning author and National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Meg Medina as Honorary Chair of next year's National Library Week, which is set to run from April 7-13, 2024. An excellent choice.
Medina is a Cuban American author who writes for readers of all ages. Her middle-grade novel Merci Suárez Changes Gears received a Newbery Medal, and her most recent picture book, Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away, has received multiple honors, including a Charlotte Zolotow Award and the 2020 Jumpstart Read for the Record selection.
“I’m thrilled to serve as the honorary chair of National Library Week for 2024,” Medina said, in a statement. “Libraries connect our communities and enrich our lives in ways we may not realize, and one of my greatest pleasures is discovering the unexpected and beautiful things libraries offer. From book groups to lending sports equipment to providing a safe after-school hangout space and so much more, libraries support us wherever we find ourselves on the roadmap through life’s journey.”