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Book Bans May Bring the Return of Child-Free Libraries: Censorship News, August 4, 2023

Danika Ellis

Associate Editor

Danika spends most of her time talking about queer women books at the Lesbrary. Blog: The Lesbrary Twitter: @DanikaEllis

Public libraries are synonymous with children today, with story times and an inviting children’s section considered essential features. Arguments for increasing or maintaining library funding often reference the library’s role in literacy education for kids as well as the many happy memories even adults who no longer frequent the library still hold for childhoods spent there. But public libraries weren’t always welcoming to kids, and a lot of the book banning strategies and the policies they’ve inspired might just have those child-free libraries make a comeback.

The first publicly funded library in the U.S. was the Boston Public Library in 1854, where you weren’t allowed in the doors until you were 16. As more libraries were built across the country, they continued to turn children away at the doors, partly because of the corrupting influence fiction was thought to have, and partly because kids were considered loud, messy, and destructive to the books.

The New York Public Library, built in 1911, had a Children’s Room, run by Anne Carroll Moore, who fought for libraries to be a more welcoming space for kids. At the time, Brooklyn schools considered library books useless for kids younger than 3rd grade, because they couldn’t read yet. Moore started hosting storytimes and was able to change the library policy to allow children to check out books.

More than a century later, it seems absurd to not allow kids in the doors of the library — except that many of the news stories listed below have that (perhaps unintended) effect. Fiction was seen as a corrupting influence in the 1800s, and the book ban movement today uses this same logic.

Teachers are donating their classroom libraries to make sure they don’t violate new laws. Libraries are considering policies that don’t allow unattended teenagers in the doors, and don’t let children or teens have their own library cards. And as the number of “acceptable” or “safe” kids’ books shrink, as more and more books get challenged for every conceivable reason, why would kids want to come to the library in the first place? If they can’t find anything that represents their reality, why would they want to browse the shelves?

Libraries are not static. They’re constantly changing and adapting. If we’re not careful, if we don’t fight tooth and nail for the freedom to read, the patronizing attempts to “protect” kids from diverse books will push them out of libraries entirely.

Book Censorship News: August 4, 2023

  • Tracie D. Hall, the executive director of the American Library Association, is one of the Forbes 50 Over 50 for leading “warrior librarians” in the fight against book bans. She says, “I feel like history at some point is going to judge us. And I think that if we keep going in the way that we are, I think we as librarians will be on the right side of history. That goal keeps me going.”
  • In Education Week, a teacher talked about her experience with the extreme backlash against mentioning an LGBTQ book in class, and how it changed her career forever.
  • School Library Journal spoke with four plaintiffs, including authors and librarians, involved in lawsuits fighting censorship.
  • Dashka Slater, author of the often-banned book The 57 Bus, wrote a piece for Mother Jones asking supporters to show up for school board meetings to fight censorship attempts. Slater talks about being congratulated for The 57 Bus being banned, and replied, “I’m not actually giving the book banners hell, much as I’d like to. I’m receiving hell.”
  • Some parents in Coronado Public Library (CA), though less than half, objected to the book The Rainbow Parade by Emily Neilson being read at a storytime during Pride month. Some wanted the book removed from the children’s section. The library will now be displaying storytime books at least 15 minutes before they’re read.
  • The Temecula Valley Unified School District (CA) is being sued over Resolution 21 that bans teaching “critical race theory,” which the suit asserts violates California’s censorship and anti-discrimination statutes. The suit was filed on behalf of several teachers, parents, and students.
  • Florida’s secondhand bookstores are reporting a surge of teachers donating books, including new books about minority characters, over fear of them being banned. One bookseller said, “In some ways, it’s easier for them not to have a classroom library.” Many bookstores have put up a “banned books” display that they say is very popular.
  • Clay County School District (FL) has determined that Arthur’s Birthday can remain in school libraries.
  • The Boundary County Library (ID) is creating a “new adult” section, separate from their “young adult” section, after books like Me, Earl and the Dying Girl were challenged as inappropriate for teens. They’re considering using BookLooks (a biased Moms for Liberty project) to determine which books should go in the New Adult section.
  • Urbandale (IA) school district has sent a list of almost 400 books to teachers, asking them to remove the titles from shelves — including 1984, Everywhere Babies, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, and Catch-22. These books supposedly violate Senate File 496, which bans books that mention sexual orientation or gender identity from K-6 schools, and books with a description of a sex scene from all schools.
  • During a Hamilton East Public Library (IN) library board meeting, board member Ray Maddalone asked Library Director Edra Waterman why it was taking so long to implement the new policy of reading and reviewing every children’s and teen’s book for content like profanity, violence, or sexuality. Waterman explained that it takes a long time for librarians to read every page of every book in the kids’ and teen’s section (plus new arrivals) — 8,000 staff hours, in fact. They’re able to get through about 3% of the collection every two weeks. Maddalone suggested offering librarians $5 for every book they review to speed up the process…
  • The Michigan Library Association has started a website called Mi Right to Read, offering counterarguments to misinformation about libraries and book bans, as well as ways to fight for the freedom to read.
  • Wake school board (NC) has a new policy for evaluating challenged books, including review by a five-person team including a media coordinator, a school counselor, two teachers, and two parents/guardians. Challenged books that are approved by the process to stay on the shelves can’t be re-challenged for two years.
  • A school board in Wilmington, NC is debating removing Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You from shelves, which those fighting to get the book out of schools claim is completely different from a ban (it’s not).
  • Glenside Library (PA) put together a display titled “Books Challenged in Central Bucks School District,” a nearby school district. Mary Kay Moran, director of the Cheltenham Township Library System, explained it was in response to many people coming in to ask if they carried these books and that despite some drama online, they had “nothing but support for our display” in person.
  • Two teachers at Hilton Head Island Middle School (SC) have spoken out about the harassment and threats of violence they’ve faced from a parent involved in the book ban movement.
  • The American Library Association (ALA) and the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) have put out a statement in opposition to Houston Independent School District (TX) planning to replace school libraries with detention centers.
  • Botetourt County (VA) is discussing not allowing children under 18 to have a library card, unless they have written permission from their parents. In addition, Board of Supervisors Chairman Dr. Mac Scothorn wants any child under the age of 18 to only be allowed in the library when accompanied by an adult, unless they are 16 or 17 and have written permission from their parent.
  • Lewis County (WA) Commissioner Sean Swope sent a letter to Timberland Regional Library suggesting the library have a book rating system to ensure materials are “age-appropriate.” The library system received 142 emails and a dozen comments in person about the proposed policy. Everyone who spoke out at the board meeting disagreed with it.
  • Campbell County Public Library board in Wyoming has voted to fire Library Director Terri Lesley for refusing to remove LGBTQ books from the children’s section. She said, “The easiest thing in the world would’ve been for me to resign at any time in the last two years, but these years have been hard on my staff as well. They’ve deserved my support and for me not to take the easy way out.”