Censorship of books in school and public libraries as well as demands by parent groups and new rounds of proposed and enacted legislation have caused considerable concern in the library community. The Library Bill of Rights articulates the basic practices and values that have been adopted by the American Library Association. Recent events present incredible challenges to libraries and to library workers as they strive to serve their communities according to well established professional values but must comply with new laws or face severe consequences.
Follett School Solutions which offers the Destiny library management system, is responding to requests from its library customers in states which have recently passed legislation requiring multiple forms of parental notification. These new laws require that school library and media centers implement ways for parents to be notified when their children borrow items or that block a student's ability to check out specified materials at their parent's request. These laws impose criminal or civil penalties to libraries or other district personnel that do not comply with the requirements of these laws.
With the passage of these laws, and other states expected to follow, librarians and administrators in districts using Destiny, approached Follett asking for some specific features that would enable them to comply with these new requirements.
The Destiny ILS from Follett is used by the vast majority of K-12 school libraries in the United States. About 75,000 school libraries have implemented Destiny. Given its position as the dominant technology provider for US school libraries, how it responds to these new requirements seems especially important. The creation of tools that circumvent normal student privacy practices will naturally draw criticism. Leaving library workers in a position where they cannot comply with laws is even more problematic. Given this no-win scenario, Follett states that they plan to create optional functionality that can meet these new requirements in a way that minimizes potential infringements on student privacy and censorship of library materials.
Follett Chief Executive Officer for Content, Britten Follett, states that the company has been a long-time advocate for libraries and a supporter of the values that libraries must protect the privacy of the students that use their products. Britten Follett also notes the company's longstanding interest in promoting reading for students and advocating against censorship. She emphasizes the need for the library and school communities to join in efforts to influence legislation that takes a more positive approach to longstanding library values.
Follett added that the company has many other more capabilities that they would prefer to invest their development capacity to create that enrich the learning environment for schools. Outside of these specific requests, Follett Library Solutions has no plans in place to add new features to Destiny to compromise the privacy of the students using the platform.
Follett finds itself in a challenging position. Most of the libraries in public K-12 school in Florida, for example, rely on Destiny and this state was one of the first to enact legislation that contradicts established practices on how school libraries manage the privacy of students as they make use of library materials. The reality imposed by the new legislation means that the automation system must offer some alternate workflows to comply with the law in a way that will provide protection to teachers and librarians in the schools. The privacy model of Destiny does not lend itself to compliance with these new requirements.
Other school libraries that have requested this capability include the Forsyth County Schools in Georgia, the fifth largest school district in the state, which uses Destiny in its school media centers. According to local news reports , school representatives had contacted Follett School Solutions to enable more parental involvement in student use of library resources. The school district is taking measures related to materials available to students in response to parental complaints and contentious meetings of the Forsyth County Board of Education. The news report noted that Follett indicated it was already planning to create this type of functionality. Britten Follett stated that this work was planned due to the requests recently made by other library customers in February 2022 and was not otherwise part of the company's development plans for Destiny.
Library workers and school administrators likewise caught between their professional ethics related to student privacy and the legislative requirements or local school board policies that cross these bounds.
Follett CEO for Software Paul Ilse indicated that the company is working on new optional modules that can be used with Destiny to deliver these new requested features. These features address two scenarios.
- Parents will have the option to receive emails when their child checks out an item from the school library. Each parent will have to opt into this service individually. No option will be provided to enable all parents to receive such notification.
- Parents will have the option to create an account in Destiny and identify any specific items that their child will not be able to check out. The system will not present a list of potential items to be blocked. It will be the responsibility of the parent to identify specific items for each of their dependents that should be precluded from check-out.
Follett will develop these new features in a way that puts the burden on the parents. This approach shifts the responsibility away from teachers, librarians, or school administrators.
These modules are not expected to be included in the standard installations of Destiny. Schools requiring these features will need to request this added component from Follett that bypass the normal internal workflows that protect access to the data relating to student borrowing activity.
Follett notes that providing these features will address the requirements with the least level of information required by the new laws. Developing these limited tools also makes it less likely that district system administrators will create more intrusive work-arounds or move to other products will less regard for student privacy in response to new requirements for oversight into the reading materials accessed by students in K-12 schools.
Ilse and Follett note that these new modules are still in development but are planned for completion in the next few months. Schools in Florida, for example, must demonstrate a plan for compliance by July 2022.
The Florida State Legislature passed the Parental Rights in Education in January 2022, with its provisions taking effect by July 2022. By February 2022 customer sites in Florida had contacted Follett requesting for capabilities that would enable them to comply with the law and to protect their school librarians.
Other state legislatures and local school districts have passed or are poised to pass other bills that remove or limit access to selected materials through schools and libraries or that require new layers of parental notification or approval. Many of these bills call for criminal punishment of librarians that do not comply with the required actions. Libraries in these jurisdictions have also contacted Follett to provide tools to enable them to fulfill the requirements of these new laws.
Everylibrary, a non-profit library advocacy organization, monitors legislative bills that are of concern to school and public libraries.
Parental Rights in Education: Requires district school boards to adopt procedures that comport with certain provisions of law for notifying student's parent of specified information; requires such procedures to reinforce fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding upbringing & control of their children; prohibits school district from adopting procedures or student support forms that prohibit school district personnel from notifying parent about specified information or that encourage student to withhold from parent such information; prohibits school district personnel from discouraging or prohibiting parental notification & involvement in critical decisions affecting student's mental, emotional, or physical well-being; prohibits classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels; requires school districts to notify parents of healthcare services; authorizes parent to bring action against school district to obtain declaratory judgment; provides for additional award of injunctive relief, damages, & reasonable attorney fees & court costs to certain parents.
Francisco Partners, a technology-focused private equity firm, acquired Follett School Solutions from Follett Corporation in October 2021. This business transaction was covered in the October 2021 issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter. The company is led by Paul Ilse as CEO for Software and Britten Follett, CEO for Content.