New year, new legislative sessions, and with them, the same threats to the freedom to read. Which makes EveryLibrary's updated 2024 state-by-state “Legislation of Concern” tracker worth following. As EveryLibrary executive director John Chrastka told PW, many bills are carryovers from the 2023 session, including a number of proposed laws that would expose librarians, educators, and others to criminal prosecution for making allegedly inappropriate materials available to minors.
EveryLibrary said it is paying the most attention to state legislative initiatives in eight categories:
- bills that would criminalize libraries, education, and museums (and/or the employees therein) by removing long-standing defense from prosecution exemptions under obscenity laws and/or expose librarians to civil penalties
- bills that change obscenity and "harmful to minors" definitions that preempt established First Amendment rights
- bills that would establish book rating systems, leading to segregation or expulsion of materials by topic or viewpoint
- bills that mandate restrictive library policies, esp. prescribing collection development or materials challenge policies
- bills that would limit access to school library databases
- bills that create onerous parental control/notification requirements that lead to segregated materials or limit free speech
- bills that limit or outlaw the teaching of "divisive concepts"
- bills that lead to defunding or closure of libraries
While most of the bills being tracked are bills that threaten libraries and the freedom to read, EveryLibrary said that it is also beginning to track a number of potentially positive legislative efforts as well.
Also, we'll take this chance to shout out John Chrastka and the excellent EveryLibrary team for their excellent work, which Publishers Weekly was proud to recognize in naming Chrastka a 2023 notable person of the year.
On the subject of potentially positive bills, NBC10 in Boston reports on a Massachusetts bill that would prevent book removal "due to personal or political views" in municipal and school libraries. The bill would “give power to school librarians and teachers to determine access to ‘age-appropriate’ materials in school libraries, requiring that ‘school library materials are selected on a school librarian's professional training and not on political or personal views,’ ” according to the report.
Meanwhile, in Indiana, PBS affiliate WFYI reports on a state bill that would “drastically change the way public libraries are funded and limit the types of events and activities they can host,” according to the article. “Senate Bill 32, authored by Sens. Jim Tomes (R-Wadesville) and Gary Byrne (R-Byrneville), would eliminate the ability for public libraries to impose property taxes. Instead, libraries would need to submit their budgets for approval to their local city or county government, in the same way that other municipal departments do,” the report states. “The proposal comes months after legislation that makes it easier for community members to request removals of books from schools was signed into law.”
As we reported at Publishers Weekly, federal judge T. Kent Wetherell ruled that a lawsuit over the removal of books in the Escambia County (Florida) School District can proceed. There is a lot of local coverage, including from the Pensacola News Journal: “Wetherell, explaining his decision to let the case to move forward, said that while the school board reserves the power to remove books from the district for legitimate reasons, they cannot remove them because they do not align with their moral beliefs. While the school library should be diverse in the 'marketplace of ideas,' it is ultimately up to the parents to decide what is appropriate for their own family, he said.”
In Wyoming, the Cowboy State Daily reports that three local family members “who complained for months against sexually graphic children’s books in the public library” are asking a federal judge to dismiss a defamation lawsuit filed by Terri Lesley, the popular former Campbell County Public Library director who was fired for refusing to remove books from the children’s section of the Gillette library. This is a case to watch.
At Book Riot, Kelly Jensen has a good profile of Louisiana librarian, freedom to read advocate, and now author Amanda Jones, whose book, That Librarian: The Fight Against Book Banning in America, comes out with Bloomsbury in August. Meanwhile, in her weekly Book Riot censorship roundup, Jensen offers “the second in a series of posts” offering “insights and calls to action based on the results of three recent surveys conducted by Book Riot and the EveryLibrary Institute.”
From the Washington Post, a story at once demoralizing and uplifting recounts how the popular Tik Tok librarian Mychael Threets (who is a winner of a 2023 I Love My Librarian Award) became the subject of insults on social media recently, but quickly saw a groundswell of support. “Threets decided to address the situation in a TikTok video—which led to an even greater wave of support for him. He said sometimes the best way to respond to people who level insults is with empathy,” the article notes. “ ‘I hope those people have a much better day tomorrow. I hope they experience kindness. I hope they experience joy. I hope they remember that they still belong at the library. I hope better days are ahead of them,’ Threets said in the video.”
Over at The Conversation, Portland State professors Kathi Inman Berens and Rachel Noorda have a good piece drawn from their their recent ALA-supported study of Gen Z and millennials' media consumption habits. “Though libraries have been forced to reckon with book bans and the politicization of public spaces, Gen Zers and millennials still see libraries as a kind of oasis— a place where doomscrolling and information overload can be quieted, if temporarily.”
Library Journal has named Virginia Library Association executive director Lisa Varga its librarian of the year. “Libraries in the Commonwealth of Virginia are fortunate to have the Virginia Library Association (VLA) on their side,” writes LJ's Lisa Peet. “Take a closer look, however, and you’ll see that those wheels are kept turning by one woman: VLA Executive Director Lisa Varga.”
And finally this week, the Los Angeles Public Library has once again landed at the top of OverDrive's list of top digital circulating libraries, with more than 12 million digital lends in 2023. But the big headline this week is about what LAPL is doing with print books. A report in the Los Angeles Times details the library's acquisition of Angel City Press via a donation by its founders, Paddy Calistro and Scott McAuley.
“I really can’t believe that it’s happening because it’s so right,” Calistro told the LA Times. “The reason that this has made sense from the beginning,” said Calistro, “is that the missions of the two entities are the same. We have always wanted to preserve the history of Los Angeles and get people to read about it, and that’s what the library does.”