A Bill in Connecticut Would Fund Sanctuary Libraries: Book Censorship News, May 19, 2023

Books

A couple of weeks back, I shared a roundup of pending legislation across several states and at the national level which would ensure the right to read. There is another bill worth highlighting during this legislative session that is making positive progress in Connecticut.

Senate Bill 2, called the Act Concerning the Mental, Physical, and Emotional Wellness of Children, is a wide-ranging one covering everything from children’s mental health coverage to public libraries. Most pertinent to the ongoing removal of books from public and school libraries, though, is the bill’s creation of sanctuary libraries across the state. The bill would allow every community within Connecticut to designate a public library as a sanctuary library, wherein books which have been banned, challenged, or censored will be readily available to anyone who would like to borrow them.

The bill would open up small grants for libraries which choose to take on the distinction as sanctuary libraries, coming in at about $1,200 annually. The bill has made its way through committees and has been slated for discussion on the Senate floor for this week. You can follow the progress here.

Senate Bill 2 signals to libraries across Connecticut that the legislators find access to information so vital that it belongs under the state’s child wellness bill. Connecticut’s Ferguson Public Library in Stamford was the second library in the country to declare itself a sanctuary library in January 2023, following the lead of Chicago Public Library last fall. Under the new bill, any city could designate one library a sanctuary. Those cities with more than one public library may meet criteria to become eligible as sanctuary libraries or may choose to remain “nonprinciple” libraries; the difference would be in ability to receive the grants earmarked for the purposes of sanctuary libraries.

The bill was a surprise to the Connecticut Library Association and to librarians across the state. It emerged following a meet-and-greet hosted by the Ferguson Library following its designation as a sanctuary library; Senator Cici Maher attended the event, and two weeks later, after hearing from constituents that book bans were among the biggest concerns of library workers, she returned to session and her committee and began drafting the proposal.

Tying state aid to such designations is similar to Illinois’s Right to Read legislation. Every library will be able to choose for themselves how to proceed, but there are benefits from the state to those who stand up for intellectual freedom and the First Amendment Rights of all within these public facilities.

Such bills will not end the onslaught of book bans. What they do, though, is offer opportunities for libraries to protect themselves one step at a time and ensure that the majority of people — who time and time again emphasize seeing book bans as inappropriate and unpopular — will have their libraries represent them. Moreover, these bills aid in rallying for more legislative action in other states and municipalities to protect the right to read.

Book Censorship News: May 19, 2023

  • It took far too long for a major publisher to do anything about book bans, but this move by PEN America, Penguin Random House, and a slate of authors to sue Escambia School District over First Amendment violations is most welcome. If you read the actual filing, they note just how book banners are using the Moms for Liberty BookLooks site. If you, like me, are paywalled from the NYT article above (WAY TO BE COMPLICIT), PEN’s detailed everything as well, sans paywall.
  • So much coverage of the people fighting back against book bans is not great, but this story in the LA Times about the fight to uphold the right to read is solid.
  • An update on book banning in Central York (PA): the new language in the access policy would let kids have access to any books but parents could restrict for their own students. This….is how it always should be. Moreover, we know how few parents actually opt their kids out, anyway.
  • I told you the wave of bans against Assassination Classroom was imminent, and here’s the push in Osceola County, Florida.
  • Galesburg-Augusta Community Schools Board (MI) has permanently banned Gender Queer from the schools.
  • “Illinois parents reportedly called the police after a local middle school teacher allowed her students to read a book that tackled the topics of gender and sexuality.” This is over This Book Is Gay being used as part of a “book tasting” program where students get to look through tons of books to see if there’s something they might like to read. But go on, you don’t coparent with the government except you call the cops about a book.
  • In Flagler County schools (FL), two more books were removed from shelves after book banners complained. The books did not go through the formal review process because why have a policy when you can just give into “parental rights” folks?
  • So no books are being banned at Coehlo Middle School (MA), but no one in 5th or 6th grade can borrow books labeled “YA” unless they know the specific name of the book? Wild.
  • Corvallis-Benton County Public Library (OR) has had five book challenges in the last year, including one to the Animorphs graphic novel (volume 2 specifically). None have happened.
  • A Holland, Michigan Councilman decided to play book crisis actor over Gender Queer recently, and the Zeeland Public Schools (MI) are dealing with a wave of book crisis actors complaining about porn in the schools, demanding an “opt-in” policy to materials.
  • The Newtown, Connecticut, school board — yes, that one — can’t decide on whether or not to ban Flamer. For some perspective, the children who were murdered in that school in 2012 would be seniors this year and the board can’t decide if they would have been able to access a YA graphic novel about a biracial boy discovering his sexuality at summer camp when he was a young teenager.
  • Central Bucks Schools (PA) have pulled This Book Is Gay and Gender Queer from school shelves.
  • Wake County schools (NC) have made a new policy where “perversely vulgar” books cannot be read aloud or be included in classroom libraries. Is “perversely vulgar” defined? Of course not.
  • The June school board meeting for the Nixa schools (MO) will decide whether or not to ban seven books from the schools.
  • “In recent weeks, Waco Independent School District trustees [TX] have been contacted by individuals concerned by what they consider inappropriate materials in Waco ISD libraries, emailing lists detailing books in the high school library collection catalogs that the critics claim are unsuitable for students. The lists contain 72 books from the University High School library and 41 from the Waco High School library, 58 of which were challenged for sexual references or content. Text in the emails sent to board members references the organization Texans Wake Up, but several board members contacted about the critics said they do not think they are Waco ISD parents.” Shocker, it’s organized.
  • Students in Forsyth County Schools (GA) can’t access a book without parental permission, and thanks to the paywall, the local news is complicit in hindering access to information. Here’s an unpaywalled summary.
  • A small group of vocal bigots in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada want to remove queer books from school shelves.
  • Liberty Lakes, Oregon just passed a new law wherein the city council — city council — gets to make decisions on book bans at the public library. Not the library board. Not the trained library workers. City council.
  • “Every school library will publish a list of books in its collection that contain sexually explicit content. Parents can electronically notify the librarian if they want certain books to be off limits. It can be handled online in the same system used to check out books or monitor whether they’ve been returned on time.” This is Fauquier County Schools in Virginia. You’ll be shocked to learn there’s no clear definition of “sexually explicit.”
  • Ludlow Public Schools (MA) have a school board looking to limit “pornographic” books. You know. Since the school is full of them. They stole much of the language in the policy from book banners in Pennsylvania.
  • Gender Queer will remain on shelves at Kalona Public Library (IA).

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