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70 Years of the Library Bill of Rights: Book Censorship News, June 23, 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.

Last week’s legislation in Illinois which aims to end book bans in schools and libraries requires those institutions receiving state aid to have the Library Bill of Rights as part of their policies and procedures. But what is the Library Bill of Rights? It is a document celebrating its 70th year of existence in 2023, and it’s one that deserves some history, context, and understanding.

The Library Bill of Rights is a small but important document that was enacted by the American Library Association’s (ALA) membership council on June 19, 1939 — exactly 70 years ago this week. The document has been updated several times since, most recently in 2019, where issues around privacy were included. The full Library Bill of Rights is below:

The American Library Association affirms that all libraries are forums for information and ideas, and that the following basic policies should guide their services.

I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.

II. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.

III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.

IV. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.

V. A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.

VI. Libraries which make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.

VII. All people, regardless of origin, age, background, or views, possess a right to privacy and confidentiality in their library use. Libraries should advocate for, educate about, and protect people’s privacy, safeguarding all library use data, including personally identifiable information.

Several further documents expanding upon the Bill of Rights are available on ALA’s website, including this interpretation of each Right per the organization’s Intellectual Freedom Committee.

Des Moines Public Library (IA) Library Director Forrest Spaulding was the first to draft the Library Bill of Rights enacted by the ALA, but it was not necessarily the first statement on Intellectual Freedom and the Right to Read incorporated into U.S. public libraries. The designation of first is unclear, but what is unquestionably clear is that librarians were feeling the rise of fascism when the first Bill was drafted and approved. Its first line read “Today indications in many parts of the world point to growing intolerance, suppression of free speech, and censorship affecting the rights of minorities and individuals.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Revisions to the Library Bill of Rights came in response to several major historical events that impacted U.S. citizens and their First Amendment Rights. These included the Cold War, where the Association responded to growing censorship during McCarthyism (libraries were seen then, as now, as leftist and communist institutions); the Civil Rights era, wherein race, religion, nationality, and more were addressed (and indeed, some communities took this as the opportunity to close their libraries because they refused to participate in desegregation); and in the late 1960s and again in 1996, the organization stood firm that age was not a factor in access to materials provided by the library (in other words, young people were not subject to restrictions — something that clearly is not resonating with some public libraries today who are choosing restrictive access to anyone under 18, including ending access to all minors until re-registered under the new restriction choices by their parents).

Librarian Abby Hargreaves breaks down the meaning of each of the Rights in the bill brilliantly here, so it’s not worth reiterating. What is worth emphasizing here is that the Bill of Rights has been the precedent for practice now for 70 years, and here in year 70, we’re seeing library professionals choose to eschew their responsibilities — ones drafted and codified by colleagues through several historical censorship waves — in order to bow down to the right-wing christofascists choosing to target their institutions.

The Bill of Rights is unique in that it is not a top-down policy from ALA itself. It was created and updated through the membership of ALA, via the elected Council. As issues have come up during the course of its existence, the Bill has stood, with only additions — not subtractions — made to the document.

It is important we know and understand the document, as well as use it as a guiding tool for ensuring libraries remain open, accessible, and as equitable as possible to all. This means both having the books and resources representative of all people and *also* having mechanisms in place — policies and procedures — to ensure that those who disagree with materials in the collection have the right to express those views and have them addressed. Good policies and procedures are foundational to the First Amendment Rights of all, and for libraries that follow the Library Bill of Rights, this means not bowing to loud pressure but allowing it to do what it needs to do through the proper channels.

Libraries and librarians are being attacked. There is zero question about that, and given the means to amplify and share demands for the removal of books or programs, it is downright scary to work for the public right now. But giving in either by removing the books, moving the books, or changing access to the books is not only wrong, but it also undermines the work of the folks who were in these same positions during other high times of censorship over the last 70 years.

The Library Bill of Rights is one tool in the arsenal of policies and procedures to protect libraries and their most important resources: their staff and users, past, present, and future.

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Book Censorship News: June 23, 2023

  • Williamson County Schools (TN) are keeping 5 books on shelves that were challenged. This line is pretty telling: “One complainant, a Williamson County Schools parent, called for the removal of Speak, Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager, and Where the Crawdads Sing. Another complainant, a member of the Florida Citizens Alliance, a conservative nonprofit, called for removing Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The second complainant had no children or grandchildren at any school in the WCS district.” Why is a member of a Florida book banning group demanding book removals in Tennessee?
  • The Ludlow School Board (MA) declined to vote on a policy that would ban a ton of books.
  • “A Wake County school board committee has backed limits on how often book challenges can be filed, as well as allowing high school students to serve on a district book challenge review panel.” Books can’t be repeatedly challenged AND students get a voice in their own education? This should not be newsworthy. It should be standard.
  • Paywalled, but the Springfield-Green County Public Library (MO) has fielded 23 materials challenges over the last 5 years.
  • Massachusetts’s State Representative Jim Atkins has filed a bill that would ban book bans.
  • Wisconsin GOP legislators — who notoriously lost the support of the state’s citizens in the last election — are trying to pass a “parental rights” bill that would allow book banning across the state.
  • Bonita Unified School District (CA) will not be banning a slate of LGBTQ+ books that the crisis actors claim are harmful.
  • A parent at West Shore Schools (PA) is demanding two books be removed from the district. The books…are not in the district. But this is how it all begins.
  • The current status of book bans and bigotry in Saline County Library (AR). The county wants to take over the board which is what we call fascism.
  • Five books will be under discussion for potential removal in Guilford Schools (CT) come September. They are Flamer, Lawn Boy, It’s Perfectly Normal, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, and The Bluest Eye, none of which are creative or new. Actually, it’s noted they’re not being considered for banning but for…allowing parents to decide where they can belong? This is nonsense. Why are we allowing ignorant, non-professionals to determine what professionals — with the background, knowledge, and experience — can do?
  • “The Crawford County Quorum Court has approved a $60,000 appropriation for anticipated legal costs to defend against two lawsuits alleging unconstitutional library censorship. If the amount is spent, it would bring the county’s cost to almost $130,000 over the issue.” This is why lawsuits are the ticket at this moment in book censorship; we’ve fought on the ground for 3 years on this same “parental rights” nonsense and now it’s time to just hit pocketbooks and stall implementation of fascist laws.
  • A Fremont County School Board (WY) member, offended by seeing the sexual education book It’s Perfectly Normal on a library shelf decided she would survey people about the books she and the board should pull from the district. “‘Do you believe that schools should teach and present ‘controversial issues’ to students such as but not limited to: critical race theory, Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ+, artificial intelligence, religion, fracking, cloning, human trafficking, and gun control?’ Jacob’s survey asks. ‘Do you believe that prohibiting certain books in the school library is the same as book banning?’ asks another.” It is interesting that “gun control” is considered a “controversial” issue but “gun ownership” is not.
  • Four books under debate in West Bend Schools (WI) will not be banned.
  • Because four books require more attention in order to come to a decision on whether or not they should remain in the school district, Frederick County Schools (MD) will continue to delay releasing the decisions on THIRTY-FIVE books being evaluated right now.
  • “As challenges against books are rising, the Dover City Council is condemning any attempts at ‘unconstitutional’ book censorship at Dover’s public and school libraries. A resolution denouncing attempts to censor optional Dover library reading materials was passed by the City Council on June 14. There have been several recent requests for school leaders to reconsider books offered to Dover students.” This is Dover, New Hampshire.
  • St Tammany Library Board (LA) is still working through the ONE HUNDRED FIFTY-SIX titles still in their queue following a year of nonstop complaints from book crisis actors.
  • “When asked how the library should handle books for teens regarding LGBTQ+ relationships and sexuality, Owens said, ‘I don’t think it’s an age thing. I don’t think those books should be allowed.'” They don’t even come to have a discussion so why is this shit entertained again and again? (KY).
  • Natrona County School District (WY) is keeping Tricks on high school library shelves, but it requires parental permission.
  • Community Library Network in North Idaho now belongs to the far-right so expect to hear about a collections purge soon.
  • Wantagh Union Free School District (NY) is currently debating the fate of Fun Home in the school library.
  • “A proposal for a rating system of materials at the Christian County Library’s four branches was rejected by its governing board.” What counts for good news out of Missouri right now in the book banning sphere is…this.
  • Blue Ridge Library (VA) is dealing with a serial political instigator who is currently claiming the library has porn in it. This guy has been sued before for defamation and spent time in jail, so sure, let’s listen to him.
  • There is now a group rallying against the anti-library group in Front Royal, Virginia, hoping to save Samuels Library from the bigots claiming the facility is full of porn.
  • “Erica Rohrer objected to the book review committee not including parents and community representatives. Parent Debbie Neal objected to her 5-year-old daughter having school access to the library database of over 40,000 books without parental oversight.” These people are exhausting; you want to be a parent, then you teach your kid how to use those materials or that they cannot use them, good effing grief (PA).
  • Some parents complained about the use of Just Mercy at Yorkville High School (IL) so…they got an alternate book to read. I am paywalled, so I can’t tell you what they were upset about with a book about the broken criminal justice system and what the alternate book might be.
  • Lee’s Summit School District (MO) is hearing and making a decision on the appeal of Damsel in their library this week.
  • “The Appomattox County Board of Supervisors has removed a pride and acceptance display from a local library and is looking into banning all of the books from the library on the subject.” I’ve been saving up the stories of Pride displays and events being removed this month for a different post, but this one belongs here, too, because the board wants to get rid of all the books themselves (VA).
  • The above story gets weirder because three board members were also voted to be removed.
  • Prattville-Autauga Public Library (AL) continues to hear the book crisis actors complain about LGBTQ+ books in their public library.
  • Here’s the current status of book reviews in Beaufort County Schools (SC).
  • Two YA books in Tyler Public Library (TX) might be moved from the YA section to the adult because parents can’t bother to be parents and even though they “don’t coparent with the government,” they want the “government” to do their job by moving the books. They are All Boys Aren’t Blue and Out of Darkness. This is still censorship. It’s just a different form of it that *feels* like a compromise. It’s not.
  • Felix Ever After and Push will remain in Old Rochester Regional School Libraries (MA).
  • In Bonners Ferry, Idaho, next month’s public library board meeting will be deciding the fate of Me and Earl and The Dying Girl.
  • “Jamie Martin protests the phrasing of Francis Howell School Board members Jane Puszkar’s conservative comments during the public comment portion of the St. Charles City-County Library Board on Tuesday, June 20, 2023, at the Spencer Road Branch in St. Peters. Hundreds of patrons attended the meeting to voice their opinions to the board about implementing a ‘neutral dress code’ after conservative mom Rachel Homolak objected to seeing what she described as a man wearing makeup at the children’s desk at another branch library.” There is a LOT to unpack in this story out of Missouri. The public library is getting attacked for having a queer staff member (the boogeyman here is their dress when the reality is this is an open queer person living openly). But this little tidbit is interesting — one of the biggest complainers is a member of one of the local school boards which has been having a slew of book challenges the last couple of years. I wonder who the real problem is
  • A new book challenge policy in Lander Schools (WY) would pull the book off shelf at first complaint. This is called censorship.
  • Western Placer Unified School District (CA) will keep The Hate U Give in their curriculum.
  • Councilman Tom Audette (SC) wants to play fascist in the York County Public Library by demanding books be moved from the children’s area of the library AND that the board of the library be reduced from 10 to 7 members. Why do you think that is? (The answer is control).
  • Thursday night this week the Ketchikan Public Library (AK) board meeting will decide the fate of Let’s Talk About It. The meeting happened before an updated link could be produced, though the note about the meeting itself is paywalled, so.
  • Remember Anchorage Public Library’s nonsense last spring? They seem to be getting their act together a bit and just rejected 3 board nominees from their not-great mayor.