Libraries and schools across the country are experiencing unprecedented levels of attempts to ban or remove books from their shelves. I Love Libraries will continue to raise awareness by highlighting attempts to censor library materials, as well as efforts by librarians, parents, students, and concerned citizens to push back against them. This report includes news from Florida, Maryland, and Virginia, as well as a look at some children's picture books that have been targeted in recent years.
Florida school district pulls dictionaries and encyclopedias as part of "inappropriate" content review
A Florida school district is looking to extend the state's book ban to include a myriad of unexpected publications, including dictionaries, reports CBS News.
According to a list obtained and published by PEN America, Escambia County School District has included five dictionaries, eight encyclopedias, and The Guinness Book of World Records in its list of more than 1,600 books that could soon be banned in order to adhere to HB 1069, a bill approved by Gov. Ron DeSantis last year that, along with requiring schools to teach that "reproductive roles are binary, stable and unchangeable" and limiting education regarding sexual health, also bans schools from having books that depict or describe "sexual conduct" or "is inappropriate for the grade level and age group for which the material is used."
Alongside titles on the list like John T. Alexander's Catherine the Great: Life and Legend and Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl are Merriam-Webster's Elementary Dictionary, The Bible Book, The World Book Encyclopedia of People and Places, Guinness Book of World Records, 2000, Webster's Dictionary and Thesaurus for Students, and The American Heritage Children's Dictionary.
"Florida's new censorship landscape under laws like HB 1069 is robbing students of all kinds of important books and resources, such as those on major topics like the Holocaust, and shockingly, the Dictionary," Kasey Meehan, program director of PEN America's Freedom to Read program, told CBS News. "This is a massive overextension of the language of the law, which mandates against 'sexual conduct,' and the school must return the titles immediately."
Maryland county approves controversial book ban policy
A school district in Maryland has voted to impose new restrictions on what books can be distributed to students, reports WBAL TV.
On January 10, the Carroll County Board of Education voted unanimously in favor of a policy stating that instructional and supplemental materials shall not contain sexually explicit content. The policy defines sexually explicit content as "unambiguously describing, depicting, showing or writing about sex or sex acts in a detailed or graphic manner." It exempts materials related to "family life and human development."
"[This policy] merely provides our educators with guidance on what is not appropriate for our students,” said school board member Stephen Whisler. “This policy does not ban books. Instead, it provides responsible standards that our superintendent should consider.”
Some parents think otherwise. One parent of two kids said she thinks the wording of the policy is too broad and is concerned that it will cover classical books.
"Their first thought is, 'Why are they treating us like we're babies?' They're both high schoolers. They both know what sex is. They know about the things that are talked about in these books, and they think that it's really silly and ludicrous to try to purge any materials from the libraries," she said.
Virginia school board votes to “temporarily remove” 57 books
Rockingham County (Va.) School Board voted to “temporarily remove” a list of 57 books, including Toni Morrison’s Beloved, John Green’s Looking for Alaska, and George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue, while the board adopts new processes to review books included in school libraries, reports The Daily News-Record. The majority of books on the list are in high schools.
Some books on the list provided by the board included notes that the titles were included in parent complaints or inquiries or that they include difficult topics like violence and drug use. It is unclear if all the books are available in Rockingham County school libraries.
The board chair Matt Cross, who before the meeting’s invocation declared, “I believe the majority of our community would agree with me—we need God’s help the days that we’re living in,” said the school superintendent would coordinate with librarians to remove the books from libraries or classrooms, and the books would be taken to a secure location in the central office.
Are these topics too adult for the youngest readers?
“A picture book about a same-sex penguin couple at the Central Park Zoo was made inaccessible to young students in a Florida school district. The history of the Gay Pride flag was one of the most widely banned books in the country. An illustrated story about surviving slavery in America was prohibited in classrooms.”
The New York Times looks at some picture books intended for young children that have each been banned at least once in a public school district and what their critics found objectionable. To some, the topics—racism, sexuality, transgender identity and gay relationships—are not appropriate for very young readers.
Alarmed by the escalating attempts to censor books? Here are five steps you can take now to protect the freedom to read.
- 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.
5. Join the Unite Against Book Bans movement and visit our Fight Censorship page to learn what you can do to defend the freedom to read in your community.
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