Riot Headline 10 Exciting Books to Read this Summer

Volusia County Schools (FL) Want to Invest in Moms For Liberty’s BookLooks

Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

At a heated school board meeting this week in Volusia County, Florida, two books under fire were retained. Both Ellen Hopkins’s Glass and Erika L. Sanchez’s I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter will stay on shelves. This is a sign of the process working, as books like these (and nearly every other book being challenged) do not meet the three-pronged Miller Test criteria for being labeled “obscene.”

But what happened during this meeting should raise the alarm in other ways.

The discussion turned to “investing” in BookLooks. BookLooks, as first reported here, is the creation of Moms for Liberty–it is a database of book reviews rating books on a scale similar to that of movies, and it is being developed by adults with little or no background in education, literacy, librarianship, or child development. It is inconsistent, ranks books based on “racism” through the lens of white people’s feelings, and offers no context for the materials deemed offensive. The database itself does not pass the Miller Test, as it cherry picks the passages aligned with the right-wing, Christian nationalist agenda of the Moms For Liberty group. Moms for Liberty has no shame in lying about how they’re getting and sharing their information, either, as seen in chapters elsewhere across the country. Note that this database goes by both the name BookLooks and the name BookLook; they are different names for the same thing.

At 5:35, the board begins to discuss having a rubric that would allow for checking of materials to ensure it aligns with “supporting the curriculum.” That is the language the board emphasizes for how books should be selected and included in the libraries and in classrooms.

The individual speaking at that point talks about how they are in the process of finding a system that is “more objective” in nature. A minute later, a board member holds up a book rating sheet, asking if they use that to identify books and whether or not they fit the Florida statues for being allowed in the schools.

It is the Moms for Liberty BookLook/BookLooks system.

The discussion of the difference between “peer reviewed” and “crowd sourced” reviews is addressed. Prior to now, peer reviewed sources–those created by professionals for professionals–were the standard for books. Now, Volusia County wants to go to “crowd sourced” reviews–reviews by any Jane Doe with an agenda.

At 5:39, it is suggested that the district look into BookLooks as a crowd, volunteer run system for identifying books that are inappropriate for the school. “I’m not asking us to spend more money,” says the board member, “but obviously, we need to spend money in the right way.”

Volusia County schools want to spend taxpayer money on a book review system developed by a group in the pocket of Ron DeSantis. This is taxpayer money already being wasted by these meetings, which have put fear into educators and librarians throughout the state.

“If that can help us remain in policy and provide the appropriate books, I think it’s money well spent.”

The conversation continues with a member saying that these review repositories–again, the peer reviewed ones–which were “once considered appropriate” clearly no longer were if books were slipping through.

The district lawyer informed the board to keep an eye on what they planned to do, as they could be setting themselves up for trouble. This happened prior to the meeting, and a newly updated book policy ensured parents kept the ability to challenge books. The update, highlighted in yellow below, opens the floodgates for interpretation of what constitutes materials under it. In other words, the district has given broad permission to challenge material, depending on however the individual defines “sexually oriented material.”

text of updated materials selection policy in Volusia Public Schools

One board member then asked about sidestepping policy all together, allowing books to be pulled without needing to go through the lengthy review process. Why bother doing the work when it’s easier to just…get rid of the things that are obviously not okay?

This is a dangerous slide into not only providing taxpayer money to a private, political entity. It is a slap in the face to every person working throughout the school, state, and country who has earned the credentials, experience, and knowledge to be considered a professional educator and/or librarian. Their work is being debased in school board meetings as “inappropriate,” and biased, unprofessional “crowd sourced” databases taken into serious consideration for determining what is or is not appropriate material to be allowed in the schools.