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U.S. Book Challenges Update: July 21 Edition

July 21 banned books map

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 Pennsylvania and Florida, as well as news about authors, musicians, and sports figures fighting back against book bans.

State senator wants to ban book bans in Pennsylvania

A Pennsylvania state senator is introducing a bill that would ban book bans in the state, reports CBS News.

State Sen. Amanda Cappelletti, a Montgomery County Democrat, aims to introduce a bill this fall that will ban book banning at schools and libraries that receive state dollars. To date, there have been 56 attempts to ban more than 302 books across the state.

"Pennsylvania is the birthplace of American independence, home of America's first library originally founded by Ben Franklin. We're protecting a legacy of American freedom to access information and to determine what's right for ourselves and our families," Cappelletti says.

If successful, Pennsylvania will join Illinois, which banned book bans in June.

To be or not to be on the shelf? New Florida school book law could restrict even Shakespeare

School districts across Florida are struggling to figure out how to apply a new book-challenge law—one that could prevent William Shakespeare’s plays and other lit classics from being on library shelves, reports USA Today.

Since a new law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis took effect July 1, if a school district finds material that contains “sexual conduct,” under the state’s definition, it must “discontinue use of the material for any grade level or age group for which such use is inappropriate or unsuitable.”

Librarians and media specialists across the state are interpreting the new legislation to mean that districts could be breaking the law if they do not pull media containing “sexual conduct.” That includes many books needed to take the College Board’s Advanced Placement literature exam and dual-enrollment classes.

"Even Shakespeare is suspect,” says Kathleen Malloy, a school-media specialist in Leon County.

Ta-Nehisi Coates crashes school board meeting over removing his book from class

A South Carolina school board meeting, in which community members railed against an African American writer’s award-winning memoir about racial injustice, featured a special guest—Ta-Nehisi Coates, the author in question—reports the Daily Beast.

In February, an AP Language teacher at Chapin (S.C.) High School conducted a lesson involving Between the World and Me, the 2015 book that Coates wrote for his son to prepare him for life as a Black man which includes the writer’s first-hand experiences with racism. The lesson was eventually shut down and the book was removed from the course after students filed a complaint claiming the book made them feel “guilty for being white.”

On July 17, the Lexington-Richland District 5 School Board met to discuss the outrage concerning Coates’ book. According to news footage, a slew of people wearing blue rallied in support for the book and for academic freedom during the board hearing. Coates sat in the back of the room next to the teacher who assigned the book as a sign of solidarity.

Jay-Z finances anti-book ban initiatives in New York

Hip-hop artist and mogul Jay-Z and CEO of the New England Patriots Robert Kraft have launched a series of programs to combat the rising prevalence of book-banning, reports TMZ Hip-Hop.

Jay-Z and Kraft's organizations—the Shawn Carter Foundation and the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism—have donated $1 million to provide pro bono legal services to educators and librarians who've been targeted by local policies banning books. The pair have also set up the beginnings of programs that will allow minority students to receive grants and scholarships to support their artistic works and have signed off on a plan to reprint banned books and circulate them in learning centers.

Jay-Z and Kraft launched their initiative at Brooklyn Public Library with the “Book of HOV” exhibition.

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.
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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