Coming the same day as the announcement in Pennsylvania of forthcoming legislation to ban book bills and following on the heels of a successful anti-book ban bill in Illinois, Massachusetts State Senator Jake Oliveira and colleagues plan to propose their own bill against book bans in the state. Oliveira is working with State Representative Aaron Saunders to ensure that libraries remain places of intellectual freedom.
The bill will follow the same shape as that in Illinois. A pool of funding would be set up for public libraries, accessible only to those which include the American Library Association’s Bill of Rights in their policies or develop a similar policy that protects the First Amendment Rights of all of those who choose to use the library. Oliveira was inspired to get to work on the bill following failed book ban attempts in Ludlow Schools. The Ludlow proposal was a copy-paste job from similar proposed policy in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Ludlow falls within both Oliveira and Saunders’s district.
“What our bills does is it actually it asks library trustees, and there’s a funding piece tied to it tying it to state funding, that says that you need to adopt the American Library Association standards or their bill of rights within your local community in order to receive state funding,” Oliveira said in a statement announcing the bills.
He goes on to emphasize that librarians are trained and educated and thus, should remain the experts on what is or is not appropriate for their collections.
“[O]ur public libraries themselves they’re centers where the librarians themselves, those that have a lot of training through the American Library Association and who have gotten degrees in library science, are the experts in making sure that the materials within our schools and our public libraries are age appropriate, but also reflect the cultural diversity that we enjoy here in Massachusetts,” he said.
Oliveira, like proponents of anti-book ban bills in other US states acknowledges these censorship attempts are direct attacks on people of color and queer people.
He explained that banning books, “[O]pens up our communities to totalitarianism. You look at the Soviet Union, you look at communist China, you look at Nazi Germany, some of the first steps they took were eliminating free thought and free expression. And beginning to ban books within in our schools or public libraries is not age appropriate. but is also the first attempt to censor people’s first amendment right to free ideas.”
While these two bills focus on public libraries, a bill proposed by Senator Julian Cyr on July 3, inspired by his colleagues in Illinois, specifically covers issues of intellectual freedom in school libraries across the state. Bill SD 2673 would standardize where and how books can be removed from school libraries and who has the authority to do so. School library workers would remain the experts in their job, and the bill would reaffirm their role in the process of collection management.
All three of these bills work together to address censorship across the state and all of the senators involved have collaborated with one another in the draft and proposal stages.
Massachusetts has not been an island during the rise of book bans over the last two years. Tasslyn Magnusson’s database of book bans on EveryLibrary shows three challenges in the 2021-2022 school year between the Silver Lake Regional School District and the Walham Public Schools and 13 additional challenges for the 2022-2023 school year, including at Abington Public Schools and Old Rochester Regional School District. Other districts experiencing challenges or which have attempted to build policies that open the floodgates to censorship include Ludlow (mentioned above), Concord-Carlisle Schools, and others.
The state also saw a candidate running for Secretary of State make her campaign about removing “smut” from libraries across Massachusetts. She lost her race.
“We can stay a little bit ahead of the curve for whatever that next thing may be that gets copied-and pasted-our way,” Saunders said. “We see the writing on the wall in other states where there have been these efforts to censor in a very specific way.”