Editor's Note: There will be no Week in Libraries column next Friday, February 23, but there will be a Preview for Libraries newsletter.

When it comes to defending the freedom to read, there is no rest for the weary. As we've reported in this column, a number of significant legal victories in recent months have not deterred would-be book banners in state legislatures. And a report this week from NBC News captures the current state of affairs.

"Less than two months into 2024, lawmakers in at least 13 states have introduced legislation that could disrupt libraries’ services and censor their materials," the report notes. “This is not a culture war," Deborah Caldwell-Stone, the director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, told reporters. "It’s a threat to our democracy.”

One bright spot this week: Maryland Matters reports on the introduction of a suite of bills dubbed "the Decency Agenda," championed by House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), that includes House Bill 785, which focuses on protecting controversial books and other diverse materials in libraries. "The legislation, labeled the 'Freedom to Read Act,' seeks to protect school and public library employees by stating they 'may not be dismissed, suspended, disciplined, demoted, reassigned, transferred or otherwise retaliated against' for following state library standards that are laid out in the bill," the report notes. "Some of the standards, according to the bill, would include not removing library materials, books and other resources based on an author or creator’s background, origin, or opinions. In addition, a library should not prohibit or remove materials from its catalogue because of 'partisan or doctrinal' disapproval.”

In the Garden State, the New Jersey Monitor reports that the state's own “Freedom to Read Act” is facing a delay in the legislature: "The bill...was scheduled for its first hearing Thursday in the Senate’s education committee, but sponsors Sens. Andrew Zwicker (D-Middlesex) and Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) pulled it from consideration Wednesday after hearing that some libraries were 'confused' about it and one Democratic committee member hadn’t committed to supporting it. It’s now scheduled to be heard on March 14."

In Florida, the Sarasota Herald Tribune reports that Governor Ron DeSantis, who has repeatedly called the idea of book bans a hoax, appeared to endorse backing off the state's book ban agenda. "In a press release, DeSantis' office said the governor 'directed the Department of Education to take the appropriate action to prohibit bad actors in school leadership positions from intentionally depriving students of an education by politicizing the book review process.' Yet DeSantis' office also said that he wants the state Legislature 'to enact policies limiting... bad-faith objections made by those who don’t have children learning in Florida.' In describing some book challenges by the public as 'bad-faith,' DeSantis seemed to recognize that some of the concerns surrounding book removals are legitimate."

The New Republic is not letting DeSantis off the hook. "It’s clear that DeSantis is trying to walk back these sweeping book bans—and creating a distinction between justified and unjustified bans. Essentially, DeSantis is now trying to point fingers at anyone besides himself and his allies, calling the book bans 'theater' and 'performative.' In reality, these ridiculous book bans are a direct cause of DeSantis signing House Bill 1069 into law in May 2023."

Relatedly, the Guardian this week reports on a Florida school that recently sent parents a permission slip requesting approval for students to listen "to a book written by an African American.”

What could be more wonderful than a place that allows people to read books, magazines, and newspapers for free? That encourages children to read?

In Alabama, the Alabama Political Reporter writes that state legislators are being urged to consider a move to expose librarians and educators to criminal liability for making allegedly obscene content available to minors. "There has been a longstanding exemption in Alabama’s Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act for libraries and their agents pursuing 'legitimate educational purposes. The Alabama Republican Party voted Saturday to encourage the Legislature to repeal that code section, which would allow for librarians to face criminal charges for a purported violation of the code," the report notes.

The Kansas Reflector reports this week that lawmakers in Kansas want to implement a rating system for books in schools. Kansas House Bill 2700 "would create the School Library Rating System Task Force, a nine-person committee tasked with developing a rating system for material in public school libraries," the article notes. "The system would judge what is appropriate for each grade level, in order to allow parents and school district employees to 'discern whether materials are appropriate for a student.' Material from audio recordings to videos to books to pamphlets would be rated under the system."

In the Nation, Rebecca Gordon wants the right stop picking on public libraries. "What could be more wonderful than a place that allows people to read books, magazines, and newspapers for free? That encourages children to read? That these days offers free access to that essential source of information, entertainment, and human connection, the Internet? It’s even a place where people who have nowhere to live—or who are regularly kicked out of their homeless shelters during daylight hours—can stay dry and warm. And where they, too, can read whatever they choose and, without spending a cent—no small thing—use a bathroom with dignity."

Over at Book Riot, Kelly Jensen begins her weekly censorship news roundup with a look at how some right wing groups have been purposefully "targeting surveys designed to help understand who our current generation of young people really are, including their beliefs, their identities, and their dreams, goals, and desires for the future before them."

And finally this week, Library Journal's annual budget survey is out. And it's not bad news. "Budgets grew across all areas in 2023, and while it’s too early to predict what those gains bode, the upward trend is largely encouraging," writes LJ's Lisa Peet. "

"LJ’s 2024 Budgets and Funding survey, sponsored by Baker & Taylor, received responses from 273 U.S. public libraries between November 17 and December 14, 2023, and the news was generally good across the board. Total operating budgets rose an impressive 7.9%, the largest increase in a decade. Materials budgets didn’t see the previous year’s notable jump of 5.1% but rose by a respectable 3.5%. Personnel expenses—not only salaries, benefits, and FICA, but professional development for staff—saw a particularly healthy 9.4% boost, demonstrating that libraries are allocating money to the programs, services, and materials that support their communities, and are also prioritizing the employees who make it all happen."

The Week in Libraries is a weekly opinion and news column. News, tips, submissions, questions or comments are welcome, and can be submitted via email. Previous columns can be viewed here.