Manufacturing Problems with School and Library Books to Cash in on Solutions

From Book Riot:

As we race toward the end of 2023 and book bans continue to be a major reality across the country, it seems worth pausing to think about some of the trends across the landscape this year. We have seen shifts in the kinds of books being targeted, thanks to the work of PEN America, and we have seen a shift in the targets of censors more broadly from individual titles (those still happen!) to book distributors with the Texas READER Act and book fairs. While bigotry and power are two key themes of why censors are targeting books, one thing we should be looking at and addressing by name is this: there is a lot of money to be made with book bans.

I’ve talked at length for years about how book banners have found this a prime opportunity to point to wasteful spending of tax money. If they can complain about books in the schools, they can complain their tax money was wasted on the books, then that their tax money was wasted on the review process, and then they can take these claims to sympathetic politicians in their state to demand voucher programs, which then further defund and hard public institutions. They own the entire cycle. We haven’t touched on how many tens of thousands of dollars have been wasted on policies and how they’ve been translated at the public library level (see Hamilton East Public Library’s review of all their YA books, followed by the abrupt ending of that policy).

But a new and frankly unsurprising trend in 2023 is that private entities have stepped in to offer solutions to banned books. These are not solutions to end book bans, but rather ways to continue living in a system that permits books to be banned for lies perpetrated by right-wing parental right groups (no matter how many times book banners push the same handful of images from Gender Queer on social media or in school board meetings, those don’t meet the legal definition of obscenity; they just make you look incredibly ignorant about how books, literacy, and the law work). In 2023, book banners have started to cash in on their own lies, once again owning the entire outrage cycle and its money from start to finish.

Who has been behind this? I’ve already covered two of the biggest, most marketed to date here: BookmarkED, an app designed to “help schools and parents with book bans,” and the Brave Books-now-SkyTree book fairs designed to offer an alternative to Scholastic. The first was created by an individual who was advocating for a book ban bill at the Texas Senate this year. Convenient that he would be able to really push his new app as a solution to the bill. The second, of course, has put Kirk Cameron and a cadre of right-wing “children’s books” at the center of discourse over naughty books available in school and public libraries (and hey, even if the storytime events that Brave Books coordinated in August at public libraries across the U.S. were free, they were certainly getting plenty of press and attention for the publisher and their books, both during the event and in the coverage leading up to it — the tone of that coverage didn’t matter, since they got their goals into people’s mouths).

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG suggests that the author of the OP has gone more than a bit overboard on the topic.

PG doubts that BookmarkedED and SkyTree Book Fairs are part of some evil right-wing conspiracy to make money off of school book fairs so much as they are a practical solution for school administrators trying to avoid angry parents who don’t think some books being promoted by Scholastic are right for their children.

Scholastic is the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books, NASDAQ: SCHL, and is headquartered in New York City.

New York City is, of course, part of an entirely different and much smaller world than Cleveland, Topeka, Atlanta, Phoenix, Kansas City, and similarly populated urban, suburban and rural areas across the United States.

PG was reminded of one of his friends who was an executive in the Chicago office of a large advertising agency headquartered in New York City. PG’s friend was constantly aggravated by the stupid advertisements cooked up in NYC that were entirely tone-deaf and useless for selling products to anyone in the United States who lived more than fifty miles from NYC.

Finally, countless would-be authors will understand the NYC defacto book bans created and enforced by the many traditional publishers against authors of all sorts of books who conclude, “This isn’t quite right for us.”

Perhaps the author of the OP believes that librarians, schools, and other book purchasers don’t have the right to say, “This isn’t quite right for us.”

In the battle over books, who gets to decide what’s age-appropriate at libraries?

From National Public Radio:

For months, Carolyn Harrison and a small band of activists have been setting up folding tables with an array of what they call “bad books” outside the public library in Idaho Falls, Idaho. As Harrison, co-founder of the group Parents Against Bad Books sees it, the best way to convince people that the library is stocking inappropriate books is to show them.

“These two books are in the library, if you don’t believe it!” Harrison says to one passerby.

“It’s very graphic, very detailed,” offers Halli Stone, another member of the group.

They point out depictions of what they call obscene sexual encounters, catching many library patrons by surprise.

“Oooh, the graphic pictures!” exclaims one woman. “They’re taking away children’s innocence. They just don’t care.”

. . . .

It’s one of many efforts around the U.S. to change how decisions are made about which books libraries should have on shelves and in which section of the library they belong.

The process of classifying books can be somewhat inconsistent. Books usually get an initial designation from authors and publishers. Then, professional book reviewers usually weigh in with their own age-bracket recommendation, and distributors and booksellers can do the same. But ultimately, local library staff make the final call about the books they buy and where they should go.

Harrison wants to change that process by giving parents a voice in that final decision, along with the library staff. But she says libraries are resistant to the idea.

“They’ve told us here that ‘Oh no, you can’t have parents involved. You must have experts choosing books for the children,'” Harrison says. “That makes no sense. Parents are the primary stakeholders for children.”

. . . .

PABB also keeps a list of what they call “52 Bad Books.” It includes George M. Johnson’s memoir, All Boys Aren’t Blue, which contains some explicit descriptions of sexual scenes. But as is the case with most books in question, one person’s trash is another’s treasure.

“I found it very enlightening,” says Idaho Falls Public Library Director Robert Wright. As he sees it, All Boys Aren’t Blue is critical to young people’s development, especially those struggling with issues around sexual identity. “To me, it was a story of a young boy who felt maybe different, but the story that came through to me was how much his family supported him and loved him regardless,” Wright says.

Link to the rest at National Public Radio

ACLU, Parents, and Students Sue Alaska School District Over Book Bans

From Publishers Weekly:

On November 17, a group of eight local plaintiffs joined by the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska and advocacy group the Northern Justice project filed suit against Matanuska-Susitna Borough (Mat-Su) school district north of Anchorage, seeking the return of 56 books said to be improperly banned from school shelves. The suit was filed on behalf of six parents of minor children and two Mat-Su students who are over the age of 18, who claim that the actions of the school board violated their “First and Fourteenth Amendment rights” to free speech and political expression.

“On April 21, 2023, the School Board ordered the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District to remove 56 books from all of its school libraries because the books contained ideas or concepts that either the Board or some members of the public did not like. The District carried out this removal of books,” the complaint states. While acknowledging that “school districts have broad discretion in the management of school affairs,” the suit argues that “such broad discretion is still bounded by the protections of the U.S. Constitution” and that the districts removal of the books infringes on students First Amendment right “to receive ideas and information as a necessary predicate to their meaningful exercise of the rights of speech, press, and political freedom.”

The books ordered removed by the board include classics such as Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, and Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. The removed books also include books “with protagonists of color or LGBTQ+ protagonists” and “nonfiction reference materials discussing adolescent health and development.”

The plaintiffs seek “an injunction, declaratory relief, and nominal damages against the Board’s unconstitutional removal of books, to protect their right and freedom to explore a wide range of ideas.”

In a statement, ACLU of Alaska legal director Ruth Botstein, said the Mat-Su board put “its personal views” ahead of the rights of students and parents it serves. “Removing classic reads and award-winning literature from bookshelves violates students’ rights to receive ideas and information. This is a foundational component of the rights of young Alaskans to exercise freedom of speech, press, and political expression. Book banning in any public setting is unacceptable.”

The suit in Alaska is the latest in a legal effort to turn back an ongoing, politically-organized nationwide wave of book banning. In addition to the action in Alaska, an ACLU suit is currently pending in Missouri, challenging Senate Bill 775, a school library obscenity law that opponents say forces librarians to censor their collections under the “threat of arbitrary enforcement of imprisonment or fines.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

A Treatise on the State of Middle Grade and Young Adult Publishing Today

From School Library Journal:

I consistently view sales reports in Publisher’s Weekly and book sales are generally trending down for all of 2023 in almost all categories. Middle grade (ages 8-12) and Young Adult (historically classified as 12 and up, but often now classified as 14 and up) have been consistently down and are causing a lot of industry concern among publishers, book sellers and youth librarians. When I talk with my peers, it seems like a lot of us are also seeing sluggish circulation numbers as well. The current state of publishing for tweens and teens can look bleak.

I spent a lot of time – too much time? – thinking about these sales figures, talking with librarian friends both off and online, and just ruminating in general about why book sales and often book circulation is down in these age categories. Combine this with recent troubling reports that kids are reading less for pleasure and that reading scores in general are down, and there’s a lot for publishers, book sellers, teachers and librarians to ruminate upon. And I know that we are because I see the discussions happening every where.

So here are some of my ruminations about the state of publishing, book sales, reading and libraries.

Some general thoughts about current issues in publishing and book sales in general:

The 2.7% decline in the first half of 2023 followed a 6.6% drop in the first six months of 2022 compared to 2021; unit sales were 387.5 million in the first half of 2021, 8.5% higher than in the same period this year. In taking the longer view back to prepandemic times, units were up 12% in the first half of this year compared to 2019.”

  1. The cost and supply of paper continues to be of concern and have been impacting a lot of decision making at the publishing level.
  2. Though they have slowed, like all industries, supply chain issues continue to impact every part of getting books into the hands of patrons; from shipping to having enough workers in warehouses to pull and fulfill orders there are elements at play that are making things sluggish on the distribution end.
  3. The internet (fan fiction, self-publishing, Amazon) presents incredible challenges and leads to over-saturation and competition in the market. In addition, discovery is harder and many book titles just aren’t available to school and public libraries because of purchasing policies. For good or bad, many items aren’t even available for purchase at school and public libraries because they must use certain vendors, have professional reviews, etc.
  4. Book prices continue to go up while income continues to decline. Especially when you consider the fact that kids don’t have any income and the ending of Covid era policies plunged our youth back into poverty at alarming rates, the reality that is that as book prices soar, kids and their families ability to purchase books is declining. Housing and groceries come before books, and many families can’t get either at this point.
  5. There is an ongoing movement from print to digital, accelerated in some ways by the pandemic. This presents many new challenges for libraries of any type as well as consumers. The digital divide is real and presents its own issues. In addition, you have authors making exclusive deals with Audible which means that school and public libraries literally can not provide access to many titles.
  6. There hasn’t been a mega-bestseller since the Harry Potter series. Harry Potter books sold in the tens of millions, while last year’s bestselling author Colleen Hoover only sold 2.75 million copies. I personally am no longer a fan of JK Rowling, but I was a librarian during the height of the Harry Potter/Twilight/YA Dystopian era and there is no denying the impact those titles had on reading, book sales, and library support and circulation. We could really use with another mega bestselling series that drives new readers into the libraries the way this era did.

Some general thoughts about current issues in Middle Grade literature:

“According to recent BookScan sales data for middle grade books quoted in Publishers Weekly, middle grade book sales are down 16% overall.”

  1. As YA ages up (the average age of a MC in a YA novel is now age 17 – see note below), many long-term YA authors are now jumping to writing Middle Grade, which has led to some of the following:
    1. MG novels are now ageing up, the typical age of a MC in a MG novel is now 12 and 13
    2. MG novels are growing increasingly longer, which can be a real hindrance to many readers. We don’t need all the books to be shorter, but we need more shorter books to be an option.
  2. Meanwhile, just as YA hasn’t had a break out hit (again, see note below), MG has not had a new break out hit for a while now. While Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dogman continue to do well, there have been no new MG break out hits in several years. I’m thankful for those consistent series that get youth in the door, but I would give a lot for some new, energizing break out hits. This is a theme you will see repeated in this treatise.
  3. MG novels are widely being challenged and that negative press is causing a lot of stigma and backlash. As chat rooms and library board meetings fill up with a small handful of people calling librarians Marxist communist groomers, there is a growing unease among some parts of the public about school and public libraries, publishing, and books in general. Books that have been in our libraries for years, sometimes decades, now have targets on their backs. The idea that all press is good press turns out to be a lie; the truth is books and libraries are being dragged through the mud and it’s not good for business, or for the mental health of those of use who have spent decades advocating for kids and reading. I can not over emphasize the negative end result this is having on our industry.
  4. The way reading is taught in schools has resulted in what is termed the “decline at 9”, with a noticeable trend of tweens no longer reading for fun. In addition, they often don’t have the free time to read. Add in competition like Tik-Tok (and there is no MG Booktok with the same success as YA Booktok), and you have a megastorm of lack of interest and availability to read.

There is some hope in the graphic novel market, which is still popular with MG readers. But as it grows more popular, it grows more flooded and it is hard to find those breakout hits that get kids reading.

“Only one category in juvenile fiction had an increase, with sales of animals books up 14%. The largest decline came in the sci-fi/fantasy/magic area, where sales fell 11.3%. With the exception of holidays/festivals/religion, sales in all juvenile nonfiction subcategories fell in the period, with both history/sports/people/places and education/reference/language posting declines of more than 11%.” (Source: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/bookselling/article/92735-book-sales-continue-to-slow-down-in-first-half-of-2023.html)

Some general thoughts about current issues in YA/Teen literature:

“With young adult fiction the only major category posting a decline, unit sales of print books increased 4.2% in the week ended Mar. 11, 2023, over the comparable week in 2022, at outlets that report to Circana BookScan.”

“Young adult fiction sales are in decline, and it’s a hot topic in publishing, where the internet is awash with questions of why.”

. . . .

So what are people – and here I include myself – saying?

  1. There has not been a break out hit since The Hate U Give, released in 2017. There are some breakout hits with Karen McManus and Holly Jackson, and YA Book Tok has definitely helped the market.
  2. The market is oversaturated and there are fewer “big name” YA authors like the early 2000s/2010s. The bonus to all the new names publishing is that we are getting a lot of great new debuts and with that comes a lot more much needed diversity. The downside is that we have fewer of those authors that teens are coming in and asking for by name. There are, always, exceptions.
  3. Many long term YA authors are migrating to adult or middle grade (see note above). This effects that name brand recognition I just talked about. It can also be confusing from a marketing and promotion point of view. I’m not saying that authors can’t or shouldn’t dabble in multiple age ranges, I just want to acknowledge that it presents some challenges.
  4. Today’s MG novel is what 1990s YA used to be; most current YA is written for ages 14 and up and the average age of the main character is 17. Both MG and YA is being aged up. In the mean time, readers ages 13 through 15 are left in a book wasteland wondering where and what they should be reading. We are missing an entire age group in the current trends and that will have long lasting implications for everyone.
  5. YA is being publicly challenged and a lot of what sells/circulates is now being targeted. While over half of the NYT Teen Bestseller list for almost all of 2023 has been LGBTQ, LGBTQ titles are the most targeted by book banners. I can not emphasize enough how much damage I think book banning is doing to the entire zeitgeist. It’s unconscionable what is happening right now.
  6. The current book cover trend is highly illustrative and indistinguishable from both middle grade and adult romance. Readers often can not tell by the cover who the target audience is. Whether we like it or not, covers are the first gateway to books and people do in fact judge a book by its cover, but today’s cover don’t make it very clear who the target audience is.
  7. Adult authors like Colleen Hoover and those mentioned on TikTok (BookTok) are more popular with teen readers right now than many YA authors. This deserves its own lengthy article, but it’s just a bullet point here. Teens have always read adult books and that in and of itself is not the issue. The point is that they have fewer age appropriate books that speak to their current lives and issues to choose from, and reading is part of what helps us process and understand our world.
  8. There are virtually zero books for readers ages 13-15. I know I have mentioned this of, but it really is a big part of the problem. It’s a huge, huge problem. I obviously feel pretty strongly about it.
  9. YA books are often published in long, continuing series (typically fantasy at the moment) and the books are long in length and too heavy for backpacks (and too expensive). Again, not all books need to be shorter, but we need more shorter options. And please more stand alone titles. When I drop my kid off at high school she is just one of the many, many teens I see carrying 2 backpacks throughout school all day and yes, book size is an issue.
  10. The movement away from paperback has made it harder for teens to easily carry and afford books, especially since most schools no longer offer access to lockers so those books have to be carried all day long in backpacks. I feel so strongly about this that I have also mentioned it multiple times.
  11. Moving to digital allows for more privacy as people can’t see what you are reading, an important point in today’s age of book banning especially. I’m a huge advocate for digital access, but it does not come without it’s own issues, including price, availability and the reality of the digital divide.

Link to the rest at School Library Journal

PG notes that the author included a large number of links in the OP that lead to further information regarding her various topics.

As a reminder, PG virtually always (99.999% of the time) removes any links in the sections of various articles he excerpts here. His principal reason for doing this is to encourage those interested in learning more about the subject of the post will be further motivated to click the link to the original item he includes in all his excerpt posts.

The People Behind Bookmarked Are Behind Book Bans in Texas–One Is a School Administrator

From BookRiot:

At the end of August, we broke a story about the development of an app meant to “assist” schools in determining whether or not books within their libraries are appropriate materials. Founded by Steve Wandler, who works in the education technology space, BookmarkED aims to “empower parents to personalize school libraries.” The purpose is to ensure that parents get to decide the “individual literary journey for their children, based on their personal values and interests,” while teachers and librarians can keep “confidently recommending and providing more personalized books to their students, knowing precisely the learning outcomes they will achieve.” As a bonus, the technology will help libraries “simply and efficiently navigate the ever-changing challenged books landscape.”

BookmarkED’s website states the idea was conceptualized by a Texas superintendent. The app, BookmarkED, was developed in Texas by an educational technologist, and when contacted, the team behind the app stated the following:

At the end of August, we broke a story about the development of an app meant to “assist” schools in determining whether or not books within their libraries are appropriate materials. Founded by Steve Wandler, who works in the education technology space, BookmarkED aims to “empower parents to personalize school libraries.” The purpose is to ensure that parents get to decide the “individual literary journey for their children, based on their personal values and interests,” while teachers and librarians can keep “confidently recommending and providing more personalized books to their students, knowing precisely the learning outcomes they will achieve.” As a bonus, the technology will help libraries “simply and efficiently navigate the ever-changing challenged books landscape.”

BookmarkED’s website states the idea was conceptualized by a Texas superintendent. The app, BookmarkED, was developed in Texas by an educational technologist, and when contacted, the team behind the app stated the following:

In our conversations with school districts, we have heard that many do not have a centralized, up-to-date source for data on challenged books. While we cannot divulge the exact sources of all our data, we can say that we gather data from a variety of credible sources every day, including school district sources and non-profit datasets. This enables school districts and librarians to have access to this data in real-time on a state and national level.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

Not satisfied with schools, book banners are now targeting adults’ right to read

From The Los Angeles Times:

It’s Banned Books Week, the American Library Assn.’s annual observance of attacks on freedom of speech and the freedom to read, and the news is not good.

Over the last year, according to Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, what has been most striking is the pivot of censorship advocates from books in school libraries to books in public libraries.

“Last year, about 16% of demands to remove books involved public libraries,” Caldwell-Stone says. “This year, to date, it’s 49%.”

We’re seeing groups go to school or library board meetings to demand the removal of multiple titles all at once — 25, 50, 100 titles or more, often based on lists they get from advocacy groups on social media.

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, American Library Assn.

That’s a sea change, she told me, because “public libraries are the places that we’ve created for freewheeling inquiry, for the marketplace of ideas. Demands to remove books because they don’t comport with someone’s beliefs or their political or religious agenda are attacks on the very thought of a library as a place that protects 1st amendment rights to access a wide variety of views.”

These amount to demands that “the government tell us what to read, what to think, what to believe,” she says.

Other than that, not much has changed in the last year about demands for censorship of material accessible in public, except for two things.

First, there’s more of it: This year through Aug. 31, the ALA has tracked 695 attempts to remove or otherwise restrict access to library materials, aimed at 1,915 titles. That’s an increase of 20% in the number of titles challenged, making 2023 a high-water mark in a database that dates back 20 years.

The association says most of the challenges concerned books written by or about a person of color or a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

The second change is that a backlash has been gaining strength among parents and others who don’t want their kids or themselves deprived of access to books because fringe members of their communities want to impose their beliefs or political ideologies on everyone else.

It’s a “multi-pronged” fight, says Suzanne Nossel, chief executive of PEN America, the advocacy group for writers, readers and free expression generally, waged in court and state legislatures as well as before city, county, school and library boards.

“Overwhelmingly, Americans reject book bans,” Nossel says. “They know this is not the concept of free speech that we all are raised with and that we are proud of. When they point out that students have rights and that ‘parents’ rights’ are not just the rights of a single individual who may be objecting, but the rights of the overwhelming majority of parents who want their children to have the freedom to read, they can assert themselves and get these bans reversed.”

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Times

The Emotional (And Financial) Toll of Book Bans: Book Censorship News

From Book Riot:

USA Today posted a data visualization of the state of banned books in the country for Banned Books Week. If you’ve been following censorship news, none of it will come as a surprise, but seeing just how much challenges increased from 2019 to 2021 is staggering.

. . . .

Booksellers in Texas are in an uncomfortable limbo with House Bill 900, which would — among other things — require vendors to rate every single title ever sold to a public school for sexual content and submit those ratings to the government. Texas booksellers, alongside other groups, have challenged the bill. It is hard to see how it would be physically possible for any bookstore to uphold, given the number of titles they stock, even setting aside that ratings are up to interpretation and would vary wildly from vendor to vendor.

A judge’s order blocked the law, but an administrative stay has overruled that, meaning HB 900 is still in effect — despite a judge ruling it unconstitutional. Federal judge Alan D. Albright called it a “web of unconstitutionally vague requirements.” He went on,

“The government has the power to restrict the ability of its school district as to which books it may purchase. The exercise of these powers must, of course, comply with the requirements of the constitution, but these are powers that should be exercised by the state directly, not by compelling third parties to perform it or risk losing any opportunity to engage in commerce with the school districts.”

This administrative stay, which is usually used as a temporary measure to uphold the status quo, applies indefinitely, meaning booksellers have no idea when it will be overturned.

. . . .

Librarians Are Leaving the Profession Over Stress, Threats, and Accusations

In December 2022, Rockwell Falls, NY, youth services director Amanda Hoffman let the library board know that they were planning to do a Drag Story Hour in April. Bringing it up to the board wasn’t a requirement, but she decided to give them a heads up, knowing there would be some backlash. They were excited about the event.

By the time April came around, though, the board claimed they had been “in the dark” about the Drag Story Hour — despite meeting minutes showing Hoffman informed them. The public response was so vitriolic that the event was canceled, but that wasn’t enough. It started a cascade of criticism and investigations into the library. Hoffman was accused of being a pedophile and a child molester. “I had someone pray for me over the phone for Satan to leave my body,” she shared with The Post Star. She got a call from an FBI agent saying there had been a bomb threat against the library.

As Hoffman faced more and more harassment at work — on Facebook, over the phone, and in person — she begged the library board, the community, and even the police for help, but none came. Eventually, the stress manifested into extreme vertigo that landed Hoffman in the hospital.

Today, the library is temporarily shuttered, and Hoffman has resigned.

This is just one example of what librarians are being expected to put up with right now. The job was already demanding and underpaid, especially considering that it requires a Master’s degree. Now, they’re expected to also endure bomb threats and accusations of pedophilia. It’s untenable.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG is increasingly more dismayed and disgusted by the state of civil speech in the United States (he can’t speak for other nations on this subject.)

In the United States, public schools are financed through local and state taxes plus some federal funding (usually around 8-10% of a typical public school’s budget).

Public funding brings with it public oversight, typically in the form of a local school board picked in local elections (although it’s not unusual for school boards in smaller communities to run unopposed). This is one of the most basic public offices in most parts of the US and one that has a significant impact on local citizens with school-age children.

Typically, the school board selects a Superintendent of Public Schools, who hires Principals as the on-location chief executive of a given public school. Principals typically hire school teachers for their schools.

In some suburban communities, school board service is sometimes used as a springboard to other elected offices, mayor, city council, etc.

Traditionally, in most communities, there was very little intense political disagreement about the operation of public schools. This was certainly the case in the small public schools PG attended in ancient times.

Obviously, as the OP indicates, in some places, the operation of public schools has been affected by larger political and social schisms in the populace.

PG suspects that sex has always been a preoccupation for a significant number of teenage school students. Preoccupation accompanies the wide range of physical changes that characterize this age group. Social controls are the main ways teen-age hormones are kept under societal norms, backed by laws setting the bounds of sexual relations between teenagers.

Same-sex attraction has also been a constant in the lives of some teenagers. Traditionally, social norms prohibited any expression of this attraction for a teen-age student, backed by juvenile court sanctions.

Class discussion, books, and school lessons regarding same-sex attraction was traditionally so out-of-bounds that it was almost never mentioned. This is characteristic of the world in which most of today’s parents grew up in.

PG isn’t certain how the expectation of teachers, trained in many of today’s colleges and universities that consenting adulthood (or near adulthood) is the only reasonable constraint on sexual behavior between individuals will comfortably fit with the concerns of many of today’s parents.

New ALA Data Shows Book Challenges Still Surging

From Publishers Weekly:

With Banned Books Week approaching, the American Library Association has released new preliminary data showing a continuing surge in attempts to censor books and materials in public, school, and academic libraries during the first eight months of 2023.

In a release, the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) reported 695 attempts to censor library materials between January 1 and August 31, 2023, up only slightly from the 681 documented attempts at this point last year, but still on a record-setting pace. Those 695 challenges involve a growing number of books, however, with the number of unique titles challenged jumping 20% over last year: 1,915 unique titles have been targeted so far in 2023 compared to 1,651 last year. And once again, ALA data shows that most of the challenges were to books “written by or about a person of color or a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.”

The rise in unique titles challenged is indicative of the rise in organized political groups creating and sharing lists of objectionable books. In past years, most challenges came from individuals seeking to remove or restrict a single title.

“The largest contributor to the rise in both the number of censorship attempts and the increase in titles challenged continues to be a single challenge by a person or group demanding the removal or restriction of multiple titles,” ALA officials explain. “As in 2022, 9 in 10 of the overall number of books challenged were part of an attempt to censor multiple titles.” And challenges that targeted “100 or more books” were reported in 11 states thus far in 2023, compared to six during the same reporting period in 2022—and zero in 2021.

The data also suggests that the surge in book bans is moving from school to public libraries. Challenges to books in public libraries accounted for nearly half of the challenges documented (49%) thus far in 2023, ALA officials report, compared to 16% during the same reporting period in 2022.

“Expanding beyond their well-organized attempts to sanitize school libraries, groups with a political agenda have turned their crusade to public libraries, the very embodiment of the First Amendment in our society,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, in a statement. “These attacks on our freedom to read should trouble every person who values liberty and our constitutional rights. To allow a group of people or any individual, no matter how powerful or loud, to become the decision-maker about what books we can read or whether libraries exist, is to place all of our rights and liberties in jeopardy.”

ALA data on book challenges is compiled from reports filed with its Office for Intellectual Freedom by library professionals in the field, as well as from news stories published throughout the United States. The data presents a snapshot of the censorship climate, officials say, noting that man (likely most) book bans are never reported, and, on challenges may be resolved in favor of keeping challenged books.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

New PEN America Report Documents Surge in ‘Educational Intimidation’ Bills

From Publishers Weekly:

Since 2021, PEN America has documented the rise of state laws that have sought to directly censor books and curricula in schools and libraries under the guise of “parental rights.” But a new report released this week documents the rise of a new wave of state legislation designed to force librarians and educators to self-censor.

The report, Educational Intimidation: How ‘Parental Rights’ Legislation Undermines the Freedom to Learn, tracks the introduction of nearly 400 bills across the nation that target the work of professional teachers, librarians, and school administrators. But unlike the more direct “educational gag orders” that PEN America has previously tracked (bills and policies that directly ban what can be taught in schools and libraries), these “educational intimidation” bills, a number of which have passed and become law, lead to censorship in schools through more indirect mechanisms, such as requiring opt outs for certain lessons or creating new standards to evaluate and challenge books.

“Fear is the new watchword in public education,” the report bluntly states. “While transparency for public institutions and the promotion of parental involvement in schools are common sense propositions, these bills have an ulterior motive driving them: to empower a vocal and censorship-minded minority with greater opportunity to scrutinize public education and intimidate educators with threats of punishment.”

The report looks at the history and organizations behind this new wave of bills, and offers a “comprehensive taxonomy” of recent efforts, including an Index of Educational Intimidation Bills that shows the variety of laws being employed. These include burdensome inspection provisions for classrooms, teachers, and libraries; opt outs that essentially create an “à la carte” curriculum; “harmful to minors” laws that expand what is considered “obscene,” often with provisions that criminalize librarians and educators who violate these vague new definitions; and a host of anti-DEI and anti-LGBTQ+ measures and “parental rights enforcement mechanisms,” like tip lines.

As an example, the report tells of an art teacher in Tennessee who no longer teaches Frida Kahlo or Keith Haring because the state’s recently passed HB 529 requires teachers to alert parents to any LGBTQ+ content so they can withdraw their children from the lesson. The report also notes recently enacted laws in nine states that require educators to notify parents of any changes to their child’s gender expression or sexual orientation.

The report points to three “principal dangers” from the rise of these “educational intimidation” laws: They “spur self-censorship” by making instruction more burdensome, costly, or risky; they make schools “a less welcoming place for students to freely express themselves,” especially for LGBTQ+ students, who are often targeted by such laws; and, such laws empower a handful of parents (and in some cases one parent) to “make decisions about what can be taught or read,” at a school or in a library, thus “disempowering” the majority of parents” in favor of a vocal minority.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

UC Berkeley Students Occupy Anthropology Library, Hoping to Save It From Closure

From Book Riot:

A group of University of California at Berkeley (UCB) students are entering the second full week of occupying the school’s Anthropology Library, slated for closure. The silent protest organized by students has had them setting up makeshift beds among the library collections, and they plan to remain inside until the school agrees to keep the facility open. The Anthropology Library is only one of its kind at a public university in the United States, and it is one of only three at any higher education institution.

UCB Chancellor Carol Christ believes closing the facility will help bridge a budget gap, saving the university $400,000. Christ believes the collections could be moved to other facilities across campus, and the space could be used instead as a reading room.

. . . .

Students disagree, noting that the library’s rare materials are a crucial resource for anyone studying the humanities and social sciences. Because the staff knows every resource within it and because those resources are so specialized, shifting the collections elsewhere would not only risk loss of vital research and primary source material but would also disintegrate the interconnectedness built around such a focused collection.

“This plan once again emphasizes the disconnect between the administrators of the University of California and its mission to “serve society as a center of higher learning, providing long-term societal benefits through transmitting advanced knowledge, discovering new knowledge, and functioning as an active working repository of organized knowledge”,” said the student organizers behind the Anthropology Library occupation.

. . . .

Many universities, public and private, are home to specialized libraries and collections. Their purpose is to both preserve those materials and to grant access to them for the purposes of learning, research, and scholarship. Where public libraries serve the needs of the community and are not repositories of all knowledge, academic libraries operate with the opposite ethos–they are repositories, and specialized libraries such as the Anthropology Library exist in order to collect and retain as much information, material, and ephemera as possible.

. . . .

“UC Berkeley’s plan to close the Anthropology Library will destroy the curated collection of material for research from students who depend on it, and confine the disarticulated material to physical locations that our community partners cannot access,” said the student organizers.

. . . .

Students activists emphasize that this library’s closure will also have an especially big effect on some of the most marginalized within the school.

“This decision will disproportionately impact socio-economically disadvantaged students, including many underrepresented minority students, on this campus. This is especially poignant with regard to the anthropology department, as our own student population is 34% Latinx identifying, an outlier on campus,” they said. 

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Who knew anthropology could generate such heated disagreements?

Missouri House Republicans want to defund libraries. Here’s why

From PBS:

Missouri’s Republican-led House voted to cut all funding for libraries in its version of the state’s annual budget, an unprecedented move that has angered librarians and patrons across the state who rely on the facilities for everything from books to educational programming and internet access.

The proposal is not yet final; it now sits before the state Senate’s appropriations committee along with the rest of the annual $45.6 billion budget, and Republican chair Sen. Lincoln Hough said it would be his intention to restore library funding.

But for those who manage or use the state’s 160 library districts, especially in rural areas where services are not as robust, the threat feels real, librarians and patrons told the PBS NewsHour.

“The majority of Missouri libraries are small libraries, and for smaller communities that rely on this funding to serve their communities, to provide summer reading programing, to provide new books, new materials, books, and to pay their staff, this will have an absolutely devastating effect,” said Judy Garrett, who has served as a librarian at the Gentry County Public Library for 27 years.

Gentry County, located 90 miles north of Kansas City, is home to a little over 6,000 people, many of whom, like residents in other rural parts of the state, rely heavily on their libraries for internet access, Garrett said.

In Missouri, 20 percent of the population – more than 1.26 million people — do not have high-speed internet access. Nearly 34 percent of Missouri’s population live in rural parts of the state, where this kind of access can be harder to come by. Libraries provide a lifeline to this service, among others.

Link to the rest at PBS

PG wonders if PBS covered the Texas Library Shutdown case.

Texas County to Consider Shutting Down Library After Book Ban Ruling

From Publisher’s Weekly:

After a federal judge ordered the return of more than a dozen books improperly pulled from the Llano County Public Library shelves for their content, the county’s commissioners have called a special meeting for April 13 to discuss shutting the library down altogether.

According to a notice and agenda posted to the Llano County website, the Llano County Commissioners Court has set a meeting to discuss whether to “continue or cease operations of the current physical Llano County Library System,” the continued employment of library staff, and the “feasibility of the use of the library premises by the public.”

A tweet from the American Library Association’s Unite Against Book Bans account shared news of the meeting, and urged local library supporters to contact their local officials to support the library and to show up to the special meeting to advocate for their library. ALA officials say Unite Against Book Bans and ALA will continue to work closely with the Texas Library Association to support “at-risk library workers” in Llano County, as well as with Texans for the Right to Read and other Texas activists “who are on the front lines of the fight to protect every person’s right to read in Llano County and across the state of Texas.”

Closing the library would be an extreme reaction, notes ALA’s Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

“Rather than return twelve books to the library’s collection that reflect the lives and experiences of LGTQIA+ and BIPOC persons, the members of the Llano County Commission and its Library Board are prepared to fire the dedicated staff of the Llano County Library System and deny Llano County residents access to all the information and community services that the library staff provides,” Caldwell-Stone said, “simply to prevent anyone from reading certain books that these officials don’t ever have to read.”

The new developments come after a federal judge found that the library board in Llano County likely infringed the constitutional rights of readers in the community by unilaterally removing books it deemed inappropriate. In a 26-page decision, judge Robert Pitman affirmed that “the First Amendment prohibits the removal of books from libraries based on either viewpoint or content discrimination,” and found that the evidence presented in the case showed that county officials illegally “targeted and removed books, including well-regarded, prize-winning books, based on complaints that the books were inappropriate.”

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

PG did a little research and determined that Llano, Texas, is a small rural town – about 3500 people – that is located about 65-70 miles from the state capital, Austin.

When PG says small town, Llano has what appears to be a struggling newspaper that includes stories and photos of the local high school athletic teams and contestants for the annual Rodeo Queen contest. The town is surrounded by ranches raising livestock and and doing crop farming.

The population of Llano is about 80% white, including descendants of early German settlers, 15-17% Latino – mostly Mexican – with a sprinkling of a few other races.

PG expects that the library lawsuit was probably the biggest thing Llano (and Llano County) had experienced in a very long time. He doesn’t know if the county paid for its legal representation in the lawsuit or if some or all of its litigation expenses were covered by some type of insurance.

The honor of serving on the King’s Island Library Board sounds like a post that doesn’t attract very many candidates. While a federal lawsuit was certainly a source of a lot of publicity, PG suspects that the members of the County Library Board found that dealing with out of town reporters who regarded them as hicks from the sticks and spending time talking with the Library Board’s attorney during the runup to the trial was not what they had in mind when they decided it was their civic duty to support the local library.

PG found an article from TheDailyTrib.com (covering the news from Marble Falls, Burnet, Kingsland, Llano, Spicewood, Horseshoe Bay, and ALL of the Highland Lakes) that described what appears to be the current situation:

Closing the three libraries in the Llano County Library System will not affect the Little v. Llano County lawsuit, which will move forward, according to an attorney for the plaintiffs. Also, Llano County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry Don Moss and Library Advisory Board Vice-chairman Bonnie Wallace still will have to appear before the court as ordered by a U.S. District judge on April 27 or face possible sanctions.

“We will continue to see a permanent injunction against censoring books in case they ever reopen the library,” said Katherine Chiarello of Wittliff Cutter law firm in Austin, when asked about what would happen if the libraries were closed. 

Llano County commissioners are meeting at 3 p.m. Thursday, April 13, to discuss that possibility. According to the agenda, they will meet in executive session to also discuss “action regarding the continued employment and/or status of the Llano County Library System employees and the feasibility of the use of the library premises by the public.”

The county’s four commissioners and County Judge Ron Cunningham are holding the special meeting in response to an order enjoining the county to return 17 books to library shelves and the digital catalog system. The books were back in circulation on March 31. 

In a different ruling, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division, ordered Moss and Wallace to appear in person at 10 a.m. April 27. The two did not appear for depositions on March 22 and 27, respectively. They could face sanctions that would include contempt of court charges, rendering a default judgment against the disobedient parties, or paying expenses accrued, including attorney fees, for missing the scheduled appointments. 

The U.S. District Court does not have a say in whether the libraries should remain open, but people supporting the libraries can have an impact, according to Chiarello.

“The citizens of Llano can make themselves heard,” she said. “It is un-American, it is against the rule of law, and it is not good for the people of Llano County to be deprived of the many services the library offers to the community.” 

People on both sides of the issue plan to show up in force at the meeting, which is being held in the Justice of the Peace Precinct 4 courtroom, 2001 Texas 16 North in Llano. The small room holds about 40 people and is often crowded, even when a meeting is not controversial. 

“I am aware that several people are very upset by this,” said Leila Green Little, one of seven plaintiffs in the case. “I think there will be a big turnout.” 

Buchanan Dam resident Wayne Shipley is also upset over the issue, but for different reasons. He plans to be there and hopes to speak during public comment. He, too expects a big crowd to overflow the small courtroom. 

“I was taken by surprise that the county is having to look at this step,” he told DailyTrib.com. “Seems to me this issue is being forced by the plaintiffs. It’s not about banning books. The books in question are explicitly pornographic in nature. They should not be available for children to pick up off the shelves.” 

Shipley did agree that not all 17 books listed fit in that category, including one about the Ku Klux Klan, another about the caste system, and a children’s series about farting animals and imaginary figures.

“Those aren’t the ones driving the issue,” he said. “I think those are put in there to blur the issue.” 

PG is sympathetic with residents of Llano who get upset by being ordered by a Federal District Judge to show up in court in Austin to be potentially held in contempt of court and/or ordered to pay attorneys fees to a relatively large law firm (17 attorneys) in Austin. PG’s quick and dirty research into the fees charged by Austin attorneys leads him to believe that they’ll be about $300 per hour.

The quote from one of the attorneys on the winning side was, in PG’s personal legal judgement, really stupid:

“We will continue to see a permanent injunction against censoring books in case they ever reopen the library,” said Katherine Chiarello of Wittliff Cutter law firm in Austin, when asked about what would happen if the libraries were closed. 

PG has gone way farther along this trail than he should have, however, here is his last point.

PG just checked and the average per capita income in Llano County is a little over $44,000 per year. That translates to about $12 per hour. PG suspects that very few people living in Llano County, including the lawyers who practice there, earn $300 per hour, which is likely in the general range that the the Austin law firm will seek in the form of attorneys fees should the federal judge decides to hold anyone in contempt of court.

Coalition Forms to Battle Library E-book Bills

From Publisher’s Weekly:

In a release this week, an alliance of author, publisher, and copyright industry advocacy groups launched Protect the Creative Economy Coalition, a coalition designed to combat a growing number of new library e-book bills surfacing in state legislatures in the opening weeks of 2023.

“The problem is not theoretical,” AAP president and CEO Maria Pallante said in a statement. “The state bills would subject authors and publishing houses of all sizes to serious liabilities and financial penalties for exercising the very rights that the Copyright Act so clearly affords them—the definition of a constitutional conflict. Moreover, they would forge a concerning precedent for downstream appropriation of IP investments by actors well beyond the states, especially as to already precarious digital copies. We stand by our time-tested copyright system, and we are deeply dubious of assertions that devaluing the Nation’s creative output is in the public interest.”

The coalition effort comes as a host of new library e-book bills have been introduced in several states in 2023, and a year after a federal judge in February of 2022 struck down Maryland’s groundbreaking library e-book law, finding that the bill was likely preempted by the federal Copyright Act.

“These bills are unconstitutional and for good reason. They target the federal copyright system that authors depend on to earning a living,” said Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild. “By forcing pricing limits and other restrictions on not just publishers but thousands of self-published authors, the bills exhibit total disregard of the reality that authors in the commercial marketplace have to earn enough money to stay in the profession. The Authors Guild is fully committed to libraries having access to all books and in all formats to meet their communities’ needs. We regularly lobby for increases in library funding. It is unfair to put the cost of libraries’ needs on authors.”

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

PG says this is a battle that could backfire on Big Publishing.

PG thinks the publishers have a good constitutional case (assuming that they’re properly positioned to be speaking on behalf of authors and not their own commercial interest).

However, libraries, particularly public libraries are in the company of Mom and apple pie in the view of a great many citizens.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, here it is:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Nine Years Ago, I Speculated that Dewey’s Days Were Numbered. How Far Have We Come?

From School Library Journal:

Almost a decade ago, my colleagues and I wrote an article for SLJ entitled “Are Dewey’s Days Numbered?” in which we made the argument that the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system had lost its relevance. We took a bold stance, and the backlash was swift. Fellow librarians would wait outside the rooms I was speaking in at conferences, backing me into corners to demand that I stop talking about alternative systems.

At the time, we focused on creating better, more fluent access for children and modernizing a system that was created in the 19th century. It seems appropriate that today, an era when the status quo has been turned upside down by COVID and the racial justice movement, I find myself once again looking at the Dewey system. In this time that has highlighted the vast inequalities and injustices in our country, are we going to continue to use a cataloging system that is steeped in the values and worldview of a racist, misogynistic anti-Semite?

In 2019, ALA approved a resolution to take Melvil Dewey’s name off of one of the organization’s top awards for librarians, because of his known history as a racist, anti-Semite, and sexual predator. The reason: “the behavior demonstrated for decades by Dewey does not represent the stated fundamental values of ALA in equity, diversity, and inclusion.”

It is impossible to ignore that these ideas are ingrained in the system. Just look at a few examples: African American culture and history is located in groups of people (305), not American culture and history (973). In fact, any activist from suffragettes to environmentalists are classified in social sciences, history.

It is impossible to ignore that these ideas are ingrained in the system. Just look at a few examples: African American culture and history is located in groups of people (305), not American culture and history (973). In fact, any activist from suffragettes to environmentalists are classified in social sciences, history.

What message does that send our students? Are we suggesting that these groups of people can only be studied in relation to others, that their own history is not enough to stand on its own? Christians make up approximately 30 percent of the world’s religious population, yet they make up 90 percent of the 200s (religion.) The Dewey Decimal System is a perfect example of systemic racism, and we as librarians are perpetuating this harmful worldview in our libraries.

In a recent article in SLJ, many librarians commented about how weeding their collections allowed them to focus on issues of diversity and inclusion. Collection development is the natural focus of many librarians when thinking about how to make our libraries more diverse. But how inclusive can we be if the system itself is exclusionary? Most of us put a lot of effort into collecting diverse, informative books that provide windows and mirrors. When we put those books on the shelf in an outdated system, it negates those very principles. Students searching for the 16 official languages of India find out that they are shoved into 495.9 (miscellaneous languages of southeast Asia.) There are twice as many people living in India as in all of Europe, but the message we send is crystal clear to our children that white, European people and their culture are the most important. Kids looking for LGBTQ+ nonfiction books find out that they are shelved next to prostitution and pornography. The understanding that their thoughts, their very identity, is wrong and immoral comes through loud and clear no matter what we might say to the contrary.

It’s striking to me that librarians aren’t applying our rigorous weeding criteria to the system itself. Dewey is outdated and obsolete, it is difficult to use, and it doesn’t resonate with our patrons, our values, or the world around us. The system codifies and upholds a white, male, Eurocentric, Christian, heteronormative, abled perspective.

Link to the rest at School Library Journal