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Library Bomb Threats Continue to Increase: Book Censorship News, August 25, 2023

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.

On July 24, the Crystal Lake Public Library in the northwestern Chicago suburbs had a bomb threat. It came through a phone call. No bomb was found, and the incident was assumed to be isolated — just days earlier, the library had announced a new partnership with the local school districts to ensure any student who wanted a library card could acquire one, whether or not they lived within the tax boundaries.

This may have been an isolated incident at Crystal Lake, but over the last week, several more Chicagoland public libraries have received bomb threats. These include Wilmette Public Library in the northern suburbs, Warren Newport Public Library in the northern suburbs (which received a second bomb threat on August 21), Morton Grove Public Library in the northern suburbs (which received not one, but two threats), and Park Ridge Public Library, also in the northern suburbs. All of those happened Thursday, August 17, within a span of several hours, and all of the threats came via the various library “chat” reference tools.

Then on Monday, August 21, another bomb threat. This time to Oak Park Public Library in the western suburbs. The threat came via email the night before, Sunday, claiming that there were planned explosions the next day.

In under a month, that is six bomb threats within a small geographic area of Chicagoland, all at public libraries.

As of writing, there’s been no further information about the individual or groups behind these threats, and there’s been no information tying any of these incidents together. Whether or not they’re being explored is itself unclear — the above-linked article from the Chicago Tribune about the cascade of bomb threats on August 17 is, of course, paywalled.

By now, many are familiar with the phrase stochastic terrorism. Stochastic terrorism is the best phrase to describe what’s happening with these bomb threats: thanks to right-wing media constantly vilifying people or organizations — say through the use of the word “groomers” or “indoctrinators” to describe library workers — there are ideologically-aligned threats or attacks made on those groups. Again, we don’t know for sure who is behind the library bomb threats, but the Chicagoland area not only has several active Moms for Liberty groups, but several other active right-wing fringe groups who have been aligned with groups who’ve perpetrated hate crimes.

It’s not just the Chicago area dealing with an increase in library bomb threats, but it makes for an important point about what’s happening that needs to be emphasized again and again. Bad actors aren’t just in states that folks like to malign; they’re even in “good” states where there are new laws protecting libraries from book bans. The belief that we should only care about “good” states plays right into the very systems that the christian nationalist book censors create. They’ve done enough gerrymandering and disenfranchised voters so deeply that saying “this is what Florida/Texas/fill-in-the-blank” state voted for only adds fuel to their fire. It also deeply harms those living in those states who, through no choice of their own, have had their voting power stolen from them.

On Monday, August 21, 2023, there was a bomb threat at Mary L. Stephens Library in Davis, California. In late July, a bomb threat at a Forsyth County Public Library branch in Georgia (a juvenile volunteer was arrested). On Tuesday, April 22, a bomb threat at Union Elementary School in Oklahoma over a video by a librarian on TikTok which was then altered by the Twitter account known to harass educators.

This is not new news. Bomb threats have become a reality at public libraries since the rise of right-wing book banners. Last September, there were dozens of headlines about the number of these threats happening across the country.

Still, they continue.

So let’s return to the question here that continues to go unanswered but, every day, seems more and more likely: how long until a library worker is killed for doing their job?

Book Censorship News: August 25, 2023

  • The judicial system in Saline County, Arkansas just gave themselves more power to oversee the public library. This is scary authoritarianism we’re going to see happening in other places, too.
  • In Foley, Alabama, children under the age of 15 need parental permission to check anything out from the public library, and now the book crisis actors want to remove more books from the shelves.
  • Four books, all queer-themed, are being debated at Douglas County Libraries (CO) to determine whether they will be banned. As of the meeting this week, all four will remain on the shelf.
  • Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Flamer have been removed from Cobb County, Georgia schools.
  • I’m paywalled from this article, but Wilson County Schools (TN) have removed 6 books from their review of almost two dozen since April 2022.
  • “Tensions flared at the Fort Worth school district’s board meeting Tuesday when a community member was escorted out of the meeting by law enforcement while speaking out against books with sexual content. Mike Cee was reading from the book Flamer by Mike Curato, which was pulled from the district’s elementary and middle school libraries this summer, during public comment when he was removed from the building. The disruption caused the board to temporarily recess while other meeting attendees shouted and argued with law enforcement about removing Cee from the building instead of only the meeting room.” So he came to speak in defense of the books removed from Fort Worth ISD (TX) but then was escorted out for doing so. Make it make sense when the crisis actors get to do even worse. Note: you might be paywalled for this article, but if you wait on the lock screen, you can answer a couple of questions to get access.
  • We already know that Marion County Public Library (MS) moved Heartstopper from the YA section to adult, but this article emphasizes the point so many of us keep harping on and need to keep harping on: only people who wanted the book banned spoke up about it.
  • The 43 books removed from Manatee County (FL) schools this year.
  • Georgia made it easier for parents to ban books this year but few have done so. Why is that? Perhaps because the law requires the banners to be parents of current students. Perhaps also because banning books is extremely unpopular and only an activity of the christofascist fringe.
  • It cost the Grand Forks School Board (ND) nearly $11,000 to review the six books challenged (and retained) in the district.
  • Out of Darkness will be removed from Catawba County Schools (NC).
  • “Murfreesboro’s local library could soon be the stage for a battle over literary content, as the city grapples with a new ordinance that empowers the removal of books deemed to display indecent behavior targeted at children.” Remember when people claimed it was “only” going to be books in the school libraries (and how many of us said it would not be)? Now there are cities like this one in Tennessee making ordinances to remove books from the local public libraries. The two books that are up first for debate are This Book Is Gay and Let’s Talk About It.
  • This is another paywalled article, but the Galway School Board (NY) voted against banning two books.
  • Another paywall, but two books are being removed from the Troy City Schools (OH) after a series of complaints.
  • Wild that it is a news story when a school district notes their book review policy involves the committee involved in the process is required to READ THE BOOK (TN).
  • Here’s a good news story — these teens are working to create a nationwide organization to teach other teens how to speak out against book bans.
  • A look at the reality of book banning and its impact on libraries in West Texas.
  • Brandywine schools in Michigan open for the new school year soon, but they still don’t have a plan for what will happen to student access to the ill-defined “explicit” books in the libraries. All of this is a manufactured issue meant to waste time and taxpayer money, and it’s working.
  • “Concerned Citizens of Iron River” — AKA, book crisis actors — are seeking to get a number of books that “promote gender ideology” removed from the Evelyn Goldberg Briggs Memorial Library (WI). Again: public library here.
  • With the new “Parents’ Bill of Rights” law in North Carolina, anticipate more book bans from the state (article paywalled).
  • Empire of Storms is currently being reviewed by the board at Brainerd Public Schools (MN).
  • Dothan Houston County Library Services (AL) assures users they don’t have sexually inappropriate materials in their children’s collection. No…library does, but okay!
  • “More than 110 novels and plays — a mix of classic and contemporary literature including several best-sellers and award-winners — are included in Prince William County Schools’ division-wide “sexually explicit” list of library books and instructional materials, which school officials compiled over the summer in response to a new state law requiring schools to give parents more information and control over what their children read in Virginia’s public schools.” Over 100 titles!
  • The crisis actors are facing pushback for their book banning crusades in Iredell-Statesville Schools (NC).
  • “Daviess County Public Library [KY] Director Erin Waller has reviewed nearly 70 of the 248 titles deemed ‘inappropriate for developing minds’ by the Daviess County Citizens for Decency (DCC4D) group. Waller said she recommends the ones she’s reviewed so far remain in their respective sections.” Continuing in the trend of tremendous waste of taxpayer time and money is this group of christofascists trying to claim the public library is full of pornography.
  • The Williamson County School Board (TN) is being sued by a group of parents who claim they are allowing porn to stay on school library shelves.
  • The book crisis actors in Prattville, Alabama are absolutely incensed that the public library will receive the same level of funding it did last year, despite the fact the library won’t remove books they don’t like.
  • Here’s the latest update on Samuels Public Library in Virginia, where a group has been harassing the library for months, demanding the removal of books they deem inappropriate.
  • Escambia County Schools (FL) are seeking an end to the lawsuit brought up by several plaintiffs that their processes for removing books violated First Amendment Rights. No trial date has been assigned yet.
  • Whenever a student checks out a book from libraries in Katy Independent School District (TX) this year, their parents will be notified. Nice surveillance state level stuff here. Imagine the scenario: a kid checks out a book for a research paper, the parents see the title, then they blast the educator for “indoctrination” when it’s not a topic they like.
  • Book banners in Marathon County, Wisconsin want the public library to rate the books available to minors. This is not the solution; the solution is to be a parent. Remember, you don’t co-parent with the government, I thought?
  • “At this pace, library director Kelly LaRocca predicted it will be three years or longer before it slogs through the mound of book challenges. Each requires a panel of librarians to read the book, discuss the merits of the challenge, and formulate a report to the board. This task, heaped on top of librarians’ usual duties, costs the library about $400 per title, according to LaRocca.” This is in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, where two more books just got returned to shelves and three more books were challenged because a crisis actor said the process is taking too long. They have received challenges under false names like “Mickey Mouse” and where it’s clear the complainer didn’t read the book.
  • Keene Memorial Library (NE) has approved a tiered library card system to restrict minors from accessing a variety of materials.
  • And this week, Anderson County Library Board (TN) passed similar age-restricted library cards for young people.
  • This editorial is what we need more of: citizens explaining what is actually happening at your local library boards (Fort Vancouver, WA).
  • Hempfield Area School District (PA) is letting parents see potential books being purchased at schools and file complaints up to 30 days before they’re acquired. What the hell policy is this?
  • Wild: a librarian has to show up to the county commissioners meeting to explain why right-wing crisis actors are just that (NV).
  • “Pahrump library trustees declined to make any changes to the public’s book collection on Monday after its director reported that none of the libraries she had surveyed over the past month had censored or banned any youth books about race, gender, or sexuality. Seven similar-sized libraries had relocated some youth titles on sexuality to their adult section, Pahrump Community Library Director Vanja Anderson told trustees on Monday, including a Colorado institution that had moved ‘sensitive’ titles 25 years ago prior to developing a formal challenge process to its public collection. But since that time, the library hasn’t banned, censored, or relocated any books for questionable content, Anderson reported.” This is what now passes as good news (NV).
  • Four books in Oxford Area High School (PA) — The Bluest Eye, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Lucky, and The Hate U Give — will have their fates determined this week by the board. Pretend to be shocked it’s a board member and local pastor playing book crisis actors.
  • Here are some of the next titles that Moms For Liberty will be targeting in their book banning crusades.
  • “The nationwide tactic was on display at Round Rock ISD‘s first meeting of the school year, on Aug. 17. By this reporter’s count, eight of the 48 people who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting used their two minutes to read sex scenes from books they’d like to ban. It’s tempting to quote the passages, but we’ll refrain. (Of course, the speakers did not make an effort to show how the sex scenes fit into the narrative of the book.).” School’s back in session, so the book banners are, too (TX).
  • At Mason City School District (IA), where they used AI to determine books that did not abide by the new Iowa law, Friday Night Lights is back on shelves (paywalled article).
  • The Granbury ISD (TX) school board member who broke into the schools to “research” “naughty books,” has been censured by the board.