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U.S. Book Challenges Update

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Book challenges and bans are increasing in libraries and schools throughout the United States. To help spread the word about these activities and efforts to combat them by librarians, parents, students, politicians, and concerned citizens, I Love Libraries will frequently highlight several stories on the current crisis. This roundup includes news from Florida, New York, Texas, and Missouri, as well as a look at what book bans are doing to school library purchases.

Florida schools purge library books with LGBTQ characters

Florida schools are using the Parental Rights in Education Act to remove books with LGBTQ characters and themes from their libraries, reports Popular Information. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the act, which critics have dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill, into law in March 2022.

Popular Information discovered that the schools—including those in Lake and Seminole counties—were removing the books thanks to public records obtained through the Florida Freedom to Read Project. Further, training materials produced by the Florida Department of Education for librarians reveal that the DeSantis administration is encouraging this expansive interpretation of the law.

Brooklyn librarians offer banned books to children

Five librarians at Brooklyn Public Library (BPOL) have taken action against book banning by starting a book club that offers young readers an opportunity to read books that have been banned in libraries and classrooms in parts of the US, reports Fox 5 New York.

Called “Books Unbanned,” the club issues electronic library cards that give access to banned titles online. More than 6,000 teenagers have requested the cards since the program launched last spring. Library Journal named BPL quintet—Amy Mikel, Jackson Gomes, Karen Keys, Nick Higgins, and Leigh Hurwitz—“Librarians of the Year” for starting the club and their efforts to combat censorship.

Texas bill proposes jail time for teachers providing “obscene” books

Texas state lawmaker Jared Patterson introduced a bill in December that would open a path to criminal charges for public school officials that fail to remove books containing so-called "obscene" content from circulation, reports the Houston Chronicle. House Bill 976 proposes revising a section of the Texas Penal Code that prohibits the "sale, distribution, or display of harmful material" to minors.

The section currently contains a clause that exempts people who expose minors to so-called "harmful content" for a "scientific, educational, governmental, or other similar justification." Patterson proposes cutting this exemption, allowing authorities to prosecute public school administrators who fail to remove so-called sexually explicit material from libraries. People convicted of violating the "harmful material" section could face a class A misdemeanor, punishable by a $4,000 fine and up to a year in jail.

Proposed Missouri rule creates wedge between libraries and Secretary of State

Missouri Secretary of State John R. (Jay) Ashcroft is receiving pushback from library leaders in response to a rule aiming to protect minors from inappropriate material, reports Library Journal.

The rule, proposed in October 2022, would prohibit funds to be used in the state’s 160 public libraries “to purchase or acquire materials in any form that appeal to the prurient interest of any minor,” among other caveats, including requiring the adoption of multiple new policies that enable anyone to dispute or challenge age-appropriate designations; that address how collection development selections are made in considering the appropriateness for the age and maturity level of any minor; that allow parents or guardians to determine what materials and access will be available to a minor; and more.

In a statement, the Missouri Library Association called the proposed rule “an infringement on the professional judgment of librarians, and an effort to further stoke division in the communities that libraries serve.”

What book bans are doing to school library purchases

Eesha Pendharkar writes in Education Weekly: “As books are banned and challenged across the country, they might have a much larger impact than the removal of a few titles: They may be changing the makeup of entire school libraries, due to the chilling effect they create.”

Pendharkar continues: “This should be concerning for librarians and advocates focused on students’ access to diverse books and ideas, said Kirsten Slungaard Mumma, a postdoctoral fellow at the Wheelock Educational Policy Center at Boston University’s Wheelock College of Education & Human Development. Slungaard Mumma assembled data on the availability of hundreds of titles to examine patterns in the types and amount of books schools have and are buying by scraping libraries’ databases.

“The study establishes what school libraries already had in stock before the recent push to challenge hundreds of books gained momentum in districts across the country, how that varied with the demographics of the community, and what the changes indicate about the impact of book bans on school libraries in general.

“Schools in districts that were subject to a book challenge in the 2021-22 school year were 55 percent less likely to have acquired one of the 65 books about LGBTQ characters published between June and August 2022, according to the study.”

Take action

Alarmed by the escalating attempts to censor books? Here are five steps you can take now to protect the freedom to read.

1. Follow news and social media in your community and state to keep apprised of organizations working to censor library or school materials.
2. Show up for library workers at school or library board meetings and speak as a library advocate and community stakeholder who supports a parent’s right to restrict reading materials for their own child but not for all
3. Help provide a safety net for library professionals as they defend intellectual freedom in their communities by giving to the LeRoy C. Merritt Humanitarian Fund.
4. Educate friends, neighbors, and family members about censorship and how it harms communities. Share information from Banned Books Week 2021.
5. Join the Unite Against Book Bans movement to learn what you can do to defend the freedom to read in your community.

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