November 16, 2021. Proposed censorship measures in several states could lead to librarians facing criminal charges as a result of their commitment to free speech and access to library materials. Librarians around the United States are facing measures that mean that they may soon find themselves under attack for stocking books against racism and about the lives and experiences of LGBT Americans.
New Measures In Texas, Wyoming and Indiana
In Texas, school librarians are facing an increased workload as a result of an order to survey their collections for titles deemed potentially dangerous. In a campaign tactic to increase his name recognition and rally support, a candidate for Texas Attorney General recently succeeded in ordering school librarians to identify which of 850 book titles are currently in their school's collection. He further demanded that librarians declare how many copies they have of each title and how much money they spent on the books.
At this time it is not clear what steps will be taken with the information collected. Librarians, who are already overloaded with work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, are questioning the motives for such a survey. In light of the widespread heated debates about books on topics such as sexuality and race, many feel that the, until now unknown, Texas Attorney General candidate is merely trying to villainize school librarians and score political points with his potential voter base.
In Wyoming, a recent violent public outcry forced library staff to cancel a program for children. This coincides with proposed state and local policies questioning books shelved in the children's department. Many have called for the removal of books that they disagree with accompanied by criminal charges and arrests for librarians found to be in noncompliance.
In Indiana, a bill that would punish schools and public libraries for sharing "harmful material" with minors, was withdrawn before its final reading in the Senate by the author of the bill, Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville. According to this bill, schools and public libraries would be at risk for Level 6 felonies if parents disagreed with the books on the shelves. According to Indiana law, a Level 6 felonyŚthe same as possession of child pornographyŚcarries a sentence of six months to two and a half years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.
EveryLibrary Starts Petition to State Legislators
EveryLibrary, the 501c4 political action committee dedicated to building voter support for libraries, has started a petition for individuals to email their state legislators, to affirm their right to choose what they read. The petition can be found on the EveryLibrary website at https://action.everylibrary.org/nationalaccess
"Government should not get to dictate reading material that is available in libraries," said John Chrastka, Executive Director of EveryLibrary. "We're encouraging the people who are alarmed by these recent acts of legislation to sign our petition. Our lawmakers must hear from the voters that they support freedom of speech in libraries."
What this Means for the Future of Libraries
Many argue that the process of removing and reevaluating the appropriateness of a book within a library collection should be, if nothing else, a more objective process. If such measures are going to become widespread, many perspectives and expertise should be brought to the table for open dialogue on these issues as opposed to a mandate from a single or small body of elected officials. Opponents draw parallels to Ray Bradbury's dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 and the symbolic history of book burning.
These regressive policies are a slippery slope that leads to the repression of divergent viewpoints. Especially in the case of Texas, a huge manufacturer of textbooks used around the world, many fear the large-scale impact that such measures could have. Many humorously point to the fact that as lists of books deemed potentially harmful are circulated it will lead to an increase in interest in the titles. Others argue that learning happens when students encounter books that introduce them to new viewpoints and perspectives.
As advocacy groups rush to the defense of libraries it is hoped that librarians can weather these policies and retain the ability to protect freedom of speech in the United States without fear or threats to their freedom.
"EveryLibrary will continue to stand up for libraries around the United States, and continue to fight these regressive policies. When a local conversation about what is in the library collection becomes weaponized by politicians looking to get re-elected, it moves into dangerous territory for our society. Censorship is not - cannot - be the future of American libraries," said Mr. Chrastka. "We must take action now to protect our access to books and the written word. What we do today will impact us and future generations."
EveryLibrary is a 501c4 political action committee dedicated to building voter support for libraries. Since 2012, EveryLibrary has provided donor-supported pro-bono advising and consulting to 63 library campaigns helping to win over $220 million in stable tax funding. Beginning in 2016, EveryLibrary has provided strategic and tactical support to school library communities on education and tax policy, along with supporting dozens of challenges to school library budgets and school librarian positions in schools and districts across the country.
About EveryLibrary Institute
The EveryLibrary Institute is a national 501c3 non-profit with a mission to support libraries and librarians in the United States and abroad. We partner with allied organizations including foundations, philanthropic organizations, associations, non-profits, and academic institutions to enhance the perception of libraries and librarianship through direct engagement with the public.