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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
I’M A LIBRARIAN, so of course I was picking melted plastic out of the 3D printer when I heard the news that Maisie Martin had died.
I wandered out of the maker space, past the robotics lab, around the VR cave, into the music studio. We do have books in this library, lots of them. But these days, we have more than books.
Maisie was dead, so it was time, at last, to break down the synthesizer.
3D printers, LEGO robots, VR goggles: these offerings are not, among well-funded public libraries, uncommon. The Big Red Synthesizer is, by contrast, unique. Before it was Maisie’s instrument, it was my headache.
The music studio, I could handle. Generally, it was reserved by various squads of scruffy teens. They howled and tittered behind the glass and left the production computer’s keyboard greasy with Cheeto dust.
Every so often, one of them would spy the Big Red Synthesizer, enormous, as long as a Fiat, parked against the back wall of the studio control room. It was a fugitive from the 1970s, ancestor to the tools inside the production computer. Packed with knurled knobs set beside pulsing LEDs, it might have been ripped from the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. Every so often, one of the teens would creep out of the studio to ask: Hey, uh… how do you use that thing?
I would confess: I didn’t know. The synthesizer’s markings, “VCO” and “VCF” and “LFO,” were as inscrutable as an ancient tablet. Jacks yawned open, ready to receive the cables draped over hooks on the wall. According to what logic would those cables be inserted? I had barely weathered the transition to USB-C. I had no idea.
The teens would fiddle. Generally, their efforts produced only silence, and they retreated back into the computer. Once, a girl with stringy hair and long fingers summoned a yowling square wave, so banshee-pure that it punched through the soundproofing and filled the library. I jogged to quiet the noise, but she pulled the plug before I arrived, frightened by her own sound.
There was, as far as I knew, just one patron who understood the use of the Big Red Synthesizer, and her expertise made up for all our ignorance.
Maisie Martin, 83 years old, was a virtuoso.
Her career had bloomed and faded before the internet, so there wasn’t much to find about her, except the stub of a page on the university website naming her a Professor, Emeritus in classics. She had written a book about the muses, far too obscure to be included in our collection. Her hair was cut short, her expression set serious, but she was never unkind. She simply had things to do.
Maisie kept a schedule. Wednesdays were library days; synthesizer days. After being delivered by a young chauffeur, she would walk slowly to the front desk and sign her name in the studio logbook, her handwriting smooth and elegant. (The scruffy teens could barely make letters.) After she disappeared inside, there would, for twenty or thirty minutes, be silence. Maisie was plugging the right cables into the right jacks, rebuilding her composition.
I’d once spied her through the glass, consulting her notebook. She had reproduced the face of the Big Red Synthesizer in neat lines, photocopying the drawing dozens of times; on each copy, in red ink, she drew the paths of the cables as she plugged them in.
I asked her once how she composed for the synthesizer, and she replied:
“For a piano, you write a song. For a synthesizer, you invent a patch. I have been working on my patch.”
It made her sound like a farmer.
Every Wednesday, after she had rebuilt her patch, she started it playing. I could hear it only faintly through the soundproofing. The bass pushed through in big, slow waves.
Sometimes the scruffy teens would be waiting when Maisie emerged. She would give them a curt nod, and they would nod back. Neither camp seemed particularly impressed by the other.
What was Maisie making in there? There’s a code of honor among librarians: let patrons do their thing. The patrons who wanted to tell you, told you; they could not, in fact, be quieted. Yusuf Naber’s research on penguin behavior was undertaken largely, if not totally, for the opportunity to report its daily progress to the librarians. (Yusuf was ten.)
As for the rest? Brilliant Ayesha Rossi built stacks of history books, one age leading her to the next and the next as she rebuilt the whole story of humanity in her head. Ubiquitous Barbara Turner wormed her way through the mystery shelves, following a path as circuitous as an Agatha Christie plot. These patrons’ intentions, I did not know. I only saw their outermost contours, in the shape of resources requested.
Maisie Martin’s contour was a straight line. Every Wednesday, she came. Every Wednesday, she built her patch, nudged it along, broke it down.
Every Wednesday except for one.
It was the library’s policy that you should leave the studio as you found it. I reminded the scruffy teens of this policy again—and again—and again. I swiped my fingers across the keyboard, showed them the orange glow. They shrugged and smirked and promised to do better.
Maisie needed no such reprimand. In fact, she overdid it. No one else used the Big Red Synthesizer; she could have left it configured, the tangle of cables dripping in place, spaghetti-like, from one Wednesday to the next. But always, after thirty minutes of reconstruction and an hour of work, she spent her final thirty minutes removing all the cables and hanging them neatly on the wall, arranged in order of ascending length, from six inches to four feet.
The closest I ever came to divining her purpose was the day I said to her: “Maisie, you can leave the cables plugged into the synthesizer, if you want. No one else uses it.”
She shook her head. “Oh, no. Building it helps me understand it. I wouldn’t get anywhere if I skipped that step.”
I should have known, therefore, that it was a Wednesday unlike any other—that the world was about to change—when, at the end of the day, I poked into the studio to turn off the lights, and found the synthesizer still wired up.
On the table in front of the machine, a piece of paper had been laid, folded into a little tent, and on it a a note was written in Maisie’s unmistakable script:
DO NOT DISTURB UNTIL PLAYED FOR KING OZY
Feeling weirdly panicked, I buttressed Maisie’s delicate note with a larger one, printed in the official library font, laminated with the official library laminator:
In 2022, digital book lending grew significantly due to innovations that high-performing public libraries, schools and other institutions used to serve their readers. These efforts resulted in record circulation of digital books, with ebooks, audiobooks, magazines and comic books each greatly contributing to year-over-year growth, according to industry leader OverDrive.
During the year, readers borrowed 555 million ebooks, audiobooks, digital magazines, comics and other digital content, a 10 percent increase over 2021. This record circulation led to another milestone: Readers have checked out a total of 3 billion digital books from public libraries, schools and academic libraries in the OverDrive network since the first ebook checkout in 2003. Data was reported by OverDrive, the leading digital reading platform for 88,000 libraries and schools in 109 countries worldwide.
. . . .
2022 digital book lending records from the OverDrive global network:
Total digital checkouts from libraries and schools: 555 million (+10% over 2021)
Digital books borrowed by students from the classroom through Public Library CONNECT: 4.8 million (+3%)
Ebook and audiobook holds/wait listed: 214 million (+13%)
Public library systems achieving more than 1 million digital book checkouts: 129 public library systems in seven countries (+7%)
Growing up, the library was not just Amanda Oliver’s favorite place but also her “first beloved destination, first embodied center… it was absolutely sacred.” However, soon after Oliver began her career as a librarian at a Title I school and then in the D.C. public library system, she witnessed how systemic racism, income inequality, the widespread shortage of affordable housing, the opioid crisis and lack of mental health care impacted America’s most vulnerable library patrons, placing the burden on library staff working in high poverty environments to serve as mediators and mental health crisis support personnel.
The constant stress, verbal and sometimes physical abuse took its toll on Oliver’s mental and physical health, causing her to abandon the job she loved and write Overdue: Reckoning with the Public Library, a heart-wrenching polemic challenging the romanticized ideal of being a librarian.
Like Oliver, I am a former public school librarian who left my once beloved vocation after a trauma—I lost the use of my arms for nearly two years due to repetitive motion injuries which necessitated surgery after being ordered to pack a school library on my own. Around the time I resigned, I encountered Oliver’s advocacy for librarians in an essay. Her words made me realize we saw the same disparities, that I was not alone. Oliver and I recently met over Zoom, where we immediately connected over the mutual challenges we faced in the library, from retrofitting outdated collections featuring predominately white authors, to serving the needs of our diverse clientele on a limited budget, to being gaslit by administrators when we raised valid criticisms about how systemic racism and structural issues were impacting our ability to meet the needs of our patrons, to recognizing how working with limited resources in high poverty environments impacted our physical and mental health.
Deirdre Sugiuchi: In the opening chapters you discuss the mythology surrounding libraries: “It can be uncomfortable to think of libraries as social institutions that plainly tell the many layered stories of racism, classism, and deep-rooted neglect of marginalized and vulnerable populations in our community and across our nation…but to continue to laud libraries and librarians as ever-present equalizers and providers of some version of magic …prevents them from making meaningful changes and progress.”
Can you elaborate on how romanticizing libraries and ignoring systemic issues prevents libraries from making meaningful changes and progress?
Amanda Oliver: I completely understand the mythology and romanticization of libraries. It is obvious, and deserved, why they are so beloved. But when we idealize an institution to the point where we can’t or don’t or won’t look at its faults, both publicly and socially and also within the infrastructures of the institution, that’s a profound problem.
What’s particularly perplexing to me is the almost universally held view in America that libraries are somehow separate, or above, or outside of the many systemic issues impacting our entire country, when in fact our libraries embody them. I think more and more folks, especially in seeing the ways that libraries and librarians worked during the pandemic, started to understand the sheer magnitude of how much community support work was and is happening within libraries. And, again, this was held up as another shining example of the importance of libraries in America. But there’s a few missing pieces to that equation: the why this is the case—why libraries and library workers are tasked with so much and how this is indicative of pervasive inequities in this country—and also the weight of that responsibility being carried out by living, breathing people who are often not trained, capable, or sometimes even willing to do that work.
We so often look at libraries as beloved institutions without fully recognizing that they are not just physical buildings, or symbols of some best version of America…they are run by human beings who are often overworked and burned out from the insurmountable amount, and nature, of work they are being asked to do.
We can’t make progress or change to something if we don’t recognize there is a problem to begin with. And when we do the opposite—when we uplift an institution to the point of calling it things like “the last bastion of democracy” or “the last great equalizer,” as we so often do with libraries—it stops us from looking at them critically. Which, as with anything or anyone we treat this way, stops us from being able to make change or progress. If we don’t see a problem, we certainly can’t begin to see solutions.
DS: You worked as a librarian in DC, which has the largest gap in racial income inequality in this country, at a time when, due to technological shifts from 1980 to 2010, we have seen the demarcation between the social classes grow more extreme. How did working as a librarian in DC help inform your understanding of how class and caste operates in this country, particularly in regard to institutions like the library?
AO: I moved to D.C. right after graduating from my Master’s in Library Science program in 2011 and started working as a school librarian at a Title I elementary school a little over a mile from the White House. The students at that school were predominantly Black, Hispanic, and Mandarin Chinese and many of them lived in low-income housing right near the school. I learned very quickly that many of them were living in one or two-bedroom apartments with 10, 12, 14 other people. They’d come to school exhausted and tell me things like they’d been kept up all night by rats crawling on them. So many of my students lived in ways that I could not begin to really understand and then they still had to show up at school to learn and to take the same standardized tests as everyone else in the district. It became wildly clear to me very quickly how profoundly impactful class was within the K-12 school system, despite all of the reform work people like Michelle Rhea had been rolling out. When I eventually transitioned from school libraries to public I can remember thinking that so many of my adult patrons reminded me of my students and it felt like seeing the impacts of class inequality all grown up.
As far as how all of this plays out in libraries, there is a deep history of segregation in libraries by social class.
DS: You explore the history of the Library Company of Philadelphia, America’s earliest library. How did it shape how public libraries operated?
AO: The earliest free public library in America is generally accepted to be the Library Company of Philadelphia, founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1731. Franklin formed the Junto Club, which was a group of white, middle-class Philadelphia men who met for weekly meetings to improve their lives, their positions in their communities, and the societies they lived in. They regularly needed to look up information during their meetings and so they pooled their personal books into something of a collection, but eventually they wanted their books back in their homes. Franklin proposed a subscription library, 50 of them agreed to it, and the Library Company of Philadelphia—and the earliest version of the public library in America—was officially born.
All people of color were barred from accessing the Library Company. When Franklin and his peers founded the Library Company, teaching an enslaved person how to read was still illegal and punishable by death. Indigenous Americans were also forbidden access, though many had already been forcibly displaced and relocated from Pennsylvania to Midwestern territories by then. White indentured servitude was also common in colonial Philadelphia, and people in these groups—mostly women who were cultural and racial minorities, as well as the poor—were regarded as inferior to affluent white men and barred from accessing materials from most early libraries. Literacy was also a limiting factor, as education was reserved for middle- and upper-class White people. Even as access to education became more accessible to lower classes, and more of a public matter of concern, many students had to resign from school early to help work to support their parents and siblings in the aftermath of the Civil War.
Essentially, the very first version of a public library was created by and for middle- and upper-class white men, and this has permeated libraries for centuries.
DS: Can you discuss how libraries historically upheld white supremacy and segregation?
AO: Like I said earlier, our public libraries embody the history of our country, and this of course includes libraries and librarians upholding segregation, white supremacy, and xenophobia. In the early 1900s, when more than fifteen million immigrants were arriving to the United States, libraries and librarians distributed Americanization Registration Cards that required a signature agreeing to things like the use of a common language, the elimination of disorder and unrest, and “the maintenance of an American standard of living through the proper use of American foods, care of children and new world homes.” Librarians and libraries all over the country aided in the eradication of the culture, language, and customs of immigrants. Knowing that Black citizens fared even worse than them, the majority of immigrants chose to embrace whiteness and demonstrate their cultural and biological “fitness” to be white citizens, which further perpetuated and upheld white supremacy and segregation.
There is a deep, deep and lengthy history of discrimination and segregation against Black people in public libraries. It’s worth mentioning some of the brilliant Black librarians like Rev. Thomas Fountain Blue, Clara Stanton Jones, Virginia Lacy Jones, E.J. Josey, and Albert P. Marshall, who fought throughout their careers to desegregate libraries. We so often hear about Andrew Carnegie and Benjamin Franklin when we talk about the early history of libraries in America, but these folks were really leading the way and making change and uplifting libraries as truly public and accessible institutions.
By the 1950s and ’60s there were often still inferior and limited library services to Black people, but beyond that, Black patrons were often subjected to experiences in libraries that were humiliating. And librarians were often at the helm of this humiliation, refusing to give Black people library cards or to provide help for them at the circulation desk and supporting, or being complicit, when white patrons harassed them. These stories are often missing from the profession’s collective history.
PG notes that the OP doesn’t mention specific racism in libraries after “the 1950s and ’60s”. PG further notes that the 1950s and ’60s covered a period time when substantial changes occurred in the United States to remove racial discrimination in all sorts of public places, including schools and libraries.
For more recent time periods, the OP focuses on parents objecting to books they deem to be potentially harmful to their children being shelved in the children’s section of public libraries. To the best of PG’s knowledge, there have been no allegations of racism in connection with the parents’ concern over these books.
The author of the book then says:
I was truly only able to write Overduebecause I left library work. There was no way, mentally, emotionally, and, most specifically, legally, that I could have written it while working as a librarian.
PG was interested about why, “most specifically, legally” the author of the book in question could not have written her book while she was still employed as a librarian. She certainly hadn’t given up her First Amendment rights as a condition of her employment by the library. If it was a publicly-funded school or public library, firing her would constitute a state or government action which is definitely prohibited.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Provisions of this civil rights act forbade discrimination on the basis of sex, as well as, race in hiring, promoting, and firing.
PG notes that 1964 is 59 years ago. He will grant that it took a number of years and lots of lawsuits to force lawbreakers into compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but PG is pretty certain that public libraries stopped discriminating against individuals based upon their race, color, religion, sex or national origin a very long time ago.
Does this mean everything is perfect with respect to racial discrimination in the United States today? No.
Is there much less racial discrimination in the United States than there was 50 years ago? Yes.
Do public libraries withhold library cards from African Americans today? No. Do they prevent African Americans from checking out books? No. Is there still deep, deep discrimination and segregation against Black people in public libraries? No.
People change, attitudes change, institutions change. Yesterday’s mistakes should not be forgotten, but improvements and progress towards greater equality and much less discrimination should not be overlooked or minimized.
End of PG rant. He feels much better now. Everything would be perfect if he could figure out how to get Mrs. PG’s website to stop doing strange things.
In an interesting point of irony, Cambridge University Press’ 34 “Christmas Books” series was started by university printer Walter Lewis in the early 1930s, in hopes of showing off the press’ printing and design skills as the British economy slowed. And now, just in time for another economic downturn—as well as for the holiday season, of course—these highly specialized editions, “privately printed at the University Press,” have been digitized by the press to preserve a remarkable collection of limited editions.
These are not Christmas books in the sense of titles themed on Christmas. They’re called the press’ Christmas books because they were given to industry associates and customers at Christmas, in no small part as promotional pieces.
In most cases, only some 100 copies were made of a single title, and all of them were given away to “friends in printing and publishing.”
This meant that Cambridge University Press itself didn’t have a complete set of these rare editions, the last of which was produced in 1973. Starting in 2014, the press has been working to pull together a complete set of its own, drawing on “a mixture of donations and detective work.”
Ros Grooms, the press’ archivist says, “The books were published for a long time, with a pause for the Second World War, and demonstrate real excellence in the way they are put together. They aren’t showy, but all the signs of quality in printing, typography and design would have been obvious to the people receiving them.
“Great care was taken over the books but their secret was really in the experience and skill of the press’ compositors and printers. People were chosen to work on the books in recognition of their skill and they worked together to produce something really special.
“Looking through the pages, it’s easy to imagine the pleasure that these little books would have given to someone opening one for the first time at Christmas.”
In most cases, the books have a connection with Cambridge. Brooke Crutchley Walter Lewis as university printer in 1946, and continued the tradition of producing the books which, by then, had gathered a reputation. About a third of them reprint historical texts and most, of course, are related to printing and publishing since the intent was to demonstrate the company’s capabilities.
Gavin Swanson, who last year left the press’ academic publishing group—and now is editorial development manager in the journals division—was instrumental in searching out the books.
“Initially, I got a list of the books that we didn’t have and used that,” he says, “together with what was essentially a catalogue, containing a couple of paragraphs of description for each of the Christmas books, their titles and a list of illustrations.
“I would trawl through the sites of book dealers to find the missing volumes and finally came up with an original copy of the last book we needed, 1939’s From London to Cambridge by Train, just before I left the press, so I snaffled it as quickly as I could and that thankfully completed the collection.”
“These are an important piece of our heritage,” Grooms says, “and we are very grateful to Gavin for his hard work and to all those who kindly donated what must have been much-loved items, to allow us to preserve them for many Christmases to come.”
The press’ digital content team made archive-quality photos of the books and their slipcases that were made for many of the books.
Some of the volumes were photographed on a conservation cradle at higher resolution than others, including the “lift-the-flaps” Bridges on the Backs pictured at the top of this article.
Johanna Ward from the digital content team is quoted, saying, “The majority are robust enough to be digitized on a book cradle, which supports the book to allow for the high-resolution digitization of two pages at once, while not applying much pressure to its structure. … Archival photography is based on specific color calibration methods to faithfully reproduce the book as seen. We’re also digitizing at a ratio of 1:1 and so the image should also be a faithful reproduction of the size of the book.”
She points out that a file from such work isn’t as large as it might have been because these books aren’t large.
. . . .
Publishing Perspectives has asked Cambridge University Press how to see the digitized collection of Christmas books, and unfortunately the archive has yet to post the collection to its site, although they have approached the news media for coverage.
We’ve asked the company to let us know when it’s available, and we’ll revisit and update this story when they have the collection ready for viewing on the archive, perhaps on a Christmas Future.
From the murky attics of PG’s mind, an old advertising slogan appeared as he considered the inability of the Cambridge University Press’ to provide a peek at their Christmas book collection, despite of the huge number of books purchased as holiday gifts during this season and the attractiveness of the idea of giving someone a book from the Cambridge University Press Christmas book collection.
(Yes, PG realizes that the previous sentence/paragraph is overlong, but he was thinking of a 40+ year old advertising campaign for Paul Masson wine. The campaign featured Orson Wells and his delivery of the company’s slogan was epic. “We will sell no wine before its time.”
Freedom to Read advocates are voicing concern over a new bill in the Texas state legislature, that, if passed, would require publishers to create an “age appropriate” rating system for books sold to Texas school libraries. But most worrisome, critics say, the bill as written would not only force publishers to develop a rating system, it would appear to give Texas state officials the power to direct publishers to change ratings that state officials disagree with and to bar schools from doing business with publishers that do not acquiesce. The ratings would also have to be “affixed to the cover” of each book.
The bill is still in the early stages. Filed this week by Republican Tom Oliverson on the opening day of the filing period for the upcoming legislative session, the proposed bill, HB 338, will compete with thousands of other proposed bills for legislative action when the Texas legislature begins work in January, 2023. For context, the Texas Tribune reported that Texas legislators filed more than 800 bills in the opening hours of the filing period. While most of these bills will not advance, Tribune reporters note, the first bills of the session can often “shed light on legislators’ priorities and what battles could be shaping up in Austin next year.”
Early stages or not, Oliverson’s proposed bill has freedom to read advocates bracing for a rough 2023 legislative session in Texas, a state where conservative lawmakers—including newly re-elected governor Greg Abbott—have been among the most aggressive supporters of book bans and educational gag orders.
In 2021, Abbott demanded that the state agencies overseeing education and library funding keep “inappropriate” books out of Texas schools, and went so far as to direct agency officials to open criminal investigations over offending titles. Furthermore, Abbott’s directive followed a headline-grabbing inquiry launched in October 2021 by Texas state representative Matt Krause that singled out some 850 books for scrutiny.
In a statement, officials at PEN America called HB 338 a “dangerous escalation” in the movement to censor books in schools and libraries.
PG didn’t plan the juxtaposition of this item with the one he posted just before he posted this item, but the combination of the two OP’s struck him as interesting.
Let’s take the author of the Female Fear post and take her back to a time when she was 8-10 years old. PG would speculate that she might well be a sensitive girl at that time, perhaps subject to some anxieties.
How would such a sensitive child, female or male, react to a book featuring LGBTQIA+ material as are some of the books that parents and others find objectionable for an elementary school library? In past lives, PG has known more than a couple of children who would have been extremely upset about discovering this sort of book in the library. Violence isn’t the only thing that may upset a sensitive child.
PG is not suggesting that children’s librarians have to make certain the fears of the most frightened and neurotic child imaginable are not triggered, but PG suggests that they do need to put the welfare of children before any ideas that it’s important for children to learn about potentially upsetting issues during their childhood years.
In September 2021, protesters ambushed the board meeting of the New Jersey school district where I have worked as a high school librarian since 2005. The protesters railed against “Gender Queer,” a memoir in graphic novel form by Maia Kobabe, and “Lawn Boy,” a coming-of-age novel by Jonathan Evison. They spewed selected sentences from the Evison book, while brandishing isolated images from Kobabe’s.
Next, they attacked Banned Books Week, an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. The protesters characterized it as a nefarious plot to lure kids to degradation.
But the real sucker punch came when one protester branded me a pedophile, pornographer and groomer of children. After a successful career, with retirement on the horizon, to be cast as a villain was heartbreaking.
Even worse was the response from my employer – crickets. The board sat in silence that night, and for the next five months refused to utter a word in my defense.
For months now, news broadcasts and social media have featured scenes of once-sedate board of education meetings now as action-packed as professional wrestling matches. Parents, faces red with wrath, scream in objection to library books. Often their outrage includes trash talk about librarians and board members.
These smackdowns aren’t isolated incidents. In a coordinated campaign, groups with extreme agendas have attacked libraries nationwide. Between January and August of this year, the American Library Association recorded 681 challenges against 1,651 books, setting a pace to shatter last year’s record 729 challenges.
For me, these aren’t just statistics, but the scorecard for the worst year of my working life.
. . . .
Amid the controversy, some colleagues shunned me. Students who were allied with the protesters hid books about gender and sexuality. Hate mail arrived at my school email address, while trolls attacked me on social media. The protesters even attempted to file criminal charges with local law enforcement.
The library that served as a safe space for students now felt unsafe for me. Yet I continued to plug away, teaching information literacy classes, creating programs, and consulting with students until October of last year, when I experienced what I now know was a stress-induced collapse. When I saw my personal physician the next day, she ordered my removal from the workplace, prescribed anxiety medication and referred me to a therapist.
The first few weeks of therapy were difficult. Despair consumed me to the point that when the therapist asked, “Have you had thoughts about killing yourself?” I tearfully admitted that I went to bed nightly wishing that I wouldn’t wake up.
The suffering was not mine alone. Under normal conditions, our library provides a calming oasis for students. Beyond books and research resources, we offer relaxing activities and a soothing atmosphere that satisfies students’ social and emotional needs. While I was under attack, however, the library program languished. No new books, no displays, no craft projects, no research instruction, no librarian for a friendly chat.
Counselors later reported that students expressed fear for my welfare.
The majority of library services are actively considering taking part in a “warm bank” scheme according to a recent survey carried out by charity Libraries Connected. However, only 4% expect to receive any extra funding.
A snapshot survey of more than 50 library leaders showed 59% intend to take part in such a scheme – which allow visitors to use the facility to keep warm – while 88% plan to signpost vulnerable users to charities and other council departments and 76% plan to offer advice and information on reducing household bills, saving energy and tackling debt.
The results are presented in the charity’s new briefing note Supporting the Vulnerable This Winter, which also revealed 61% of services plan to provide additional activities such as games and crafts to keep people amused for long periods of time, while 43% plan to serve hot drinks and 39% plan to install extra desks and comfortable chairs for those using libraries to keep warm.
. . . .
“Libraries are warm, free and accessible spaces, located in our town centres, high streets and villages. As such they are ideally placed to help those most affected by the cost-of-living crisis this winter, whether that’s with a cuppa, a good book and a comfy chair or specialist debt advice.
“A relatively small investment across the library network could have a huge impact, allowing libraries to use their local knowledge and connections to provide targeted support at this critical time.”
PG did a little extra research on warm banks and discovered that some UK art galleries are also expected to participate.
PG is not an expert on how this is likely to evolve in the UK, but in the US, especially in larger cities, warm banks could end up being filled with homeless people who, unfortunately, may bring other problems.
For the record, PG is in favor of programs to keep the homeless warm and fed during cold winter months (and at other times), but some of the libraries’ and galleries’ regular clientele might be a bit concerned, especially if they have children with them.
The Hachette v. Internet Archive case has been in the press lately following the parties’ filing of summary judgment motions. But the case is not about the end of copyright as we know it, as Copyright Alliance CEO Keith Kupferschmid implied in his July 18 PW Soapbox, “Standing Up for Copyright.” Nor is it a “torpedo” aimed at the Copyright Act, as AAP CEO Maria Pallante said in a recent PW q&a. Rather, the case concerns the special role of libraries to provide open, nondiscriminatory access to books.
At issue in the publishers’ lawsuit is a practice called controlled digital lending, the principles of which my colleague Dave Hansen and I codified in a 2018 white paper. Under CDL, libraries (including the Internet Archive) make scans of their legally acquired physical books and loan the scans in lieu of the print under rules that mimic physical lending: only one person can borrow a scan at a time; the scans are DRM-protected; and only one format can circulate at a time to maintain a one-to-one “owned-to-loan” ratio. In other words, if the scan is checked out, its print counterpart cannot circulate, and vice versa.
As librarians see it, CDL is a traditional checkout function adapted for the needs of the modern library user. Under the Copyright Act, libraries have always been free to lend the books they have legally acquired without permission or having to pay additional fees. So why are these major publishers suing over CDL?
Because some publishers want to force libraries into a world in which digital books can’t be owned and can only be licensed (through services like OverDrive, for example), usually at significantly higher prices and under restrictive terms. Central to their lawsuit, the publishers argue that a library loan via CDL represents a lost license fee. And while I understand why these large corporate publishers would like to force libraries into an expensive, limited, non-negotiated, and highly profitable licensed access market for e-books, libraries should not have to buy (and rebuy) expensive, time-limited licenses to provide digital access to the physical books they have already purchased.
In her PW q&a, Pallante claimed that CDL will “irrevocably weaken the ability of authors to license their works.” In fact, a scan of a legally acquired print library book loaned under CDL does not negatively impact the market for publishers or authors. To the extent that a library loan has any impact on the marketplace, a digital loan under CDL is no different than the loan of the print book. Look at it this way: no one disputes that a library can mail a print book it owns to a patron. With CDL, libraries can now deliver access to their physical books using a more efficient means: the internet. And if a book’s digital checkout under CDL is controlled to function just like the physical checkout, what difference does it make whether a patron borrows the library’s physical book or the library’s scan of that book?
Pallante suggests such efficiency is a bad thing, citing the publishers’ long expressed desire for “friction” in digital library lending. But having legally purchased their physical books, the IA and its partner libraries are entitled under copyright law to lend them. Nothing in the Copyright Act requires there be any amount of friction in the lending process. Copyright law does not protect friction.
It is time for the major publishers to stop treating each library loan as a lost consumer sale. In his Soapbox, Kupferschmid complained that the IA has “amassed a collection without paying the rights holders a cent.” In fact, the books were paid for. These are the books that sit on our libraries’ shelves or in our off-site repositories. They were all purchased by a library or otherwise legally acquired, and the authors were all paid in accordance with their publishing contracts. Furthermore, this is what libraries do: amass and preserve collections that serve an important, fundamental purpose in society long recognized and valued by the public, courts, Congress, as well as by publishers and authors.
PG says traditional publishers still hate ebooks, even though ebook license revenue includes virtually none of the costs associated with dealing with printed books – printing, warehousing, shipping, dealing with returns of unsold books, etc., etc., etc.
To maximize profit in a perfect publishing world, a savvy publisher would go ebook only and be a pure ecommerce company.
Of course, more than a few intelligent authors would wonder whether they really needed a publisher when they could upload their ms. to Amazon and receive a much larger share of the selling price.
PG is not privy to the conversations traditional publishers are having among themselves, but he suspects they are very worried about their financial futures. They’re riding a sick horse if they keep trying to prop up printed book sales other than on a POD basis. Traditional bookstores won’t all disappear overnight, but PG anticipates there will be a drip, drip, drip diminution in the number of physical bookstores.
He’ll put up a quote about this right after he posts this item.
Last year, Texas state Rep. Matt Krause (R) made national news when he released a list of more than 800 books that he wants to prohibit schools and libraries from carrying, inspiring conservative school districts across the nation to step up their own efforts. The majority of these books feature characters who, like many young Americans, are people of color, LGBTQ or both. Nationally, we are experiencing what many educators, librarians and journalists accurately have dubbed an unprecedented wave of censorship.
Of course, this is not the first time politicians and citizens have mobilized to ban books. During the Cold War, Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.) and his allies waged a variety of censorship campaigns, with some Americans even participating in book-fueled bonfires. Political officials and mobilized parents, with conservative organizations like the Daughters of the American Revolution and the American Legion, pulled “subversive” books from library and store shelves in the late 1940s and early 1950s and intimidated librarians, teachers and store managers to keep them from stocking them.
But beyond a shared tenor of anxiety, Cold War book-banning campaigns and those of today differ substantially in strategy and effect. McCarthy-era book censorship was part of a much larger, coordinated campaign that used the federal and state governments to restrict other “subversive” art, including film and television. And, such efforts were international. In fact, one of the most successful efforts was the removal of books from Overseas Libraries, a network of American libraries under the jurisdiction of the State Department that served as an arm of cultural diplomacy.
But through it all, young people’s literature often escaped the attention of censors and, in fact, grew more diverse and more focused on young adolescents as an audience, anticipating the genre that we now call “young adult literature.”
This is because McCarthy-era book bans often focused on mass-adopted textbooks as the easiest way to control what students read. They cared most about two issues: anti-communism and race. Often, the two went hand in hand as civil rights activists were accused of holding communist beliefs. Textbooks, particularly social studies textbooks, that critiqued capitalism, economic equality or the health of American democracy were withdrawn from the classroom throughout the 1950s, and their publication was stopped entirely at times.
. . . .
Everywhere, parents were less likely to object to books that were part of their own education than recently published textbooks written by liberal college professors they had never heard of. And so, students in grades seven through 12 continued to read novels in English classes (“Silas Marner,” “Great Expectations” and “The Red Badge of Courage” were the three most commonly taught), along with plays and poetry. High school students read “Macbeth” and “Julius Caesar” more than any other literary works. Adolescent literature instruction, in other words, consisted of literary classics steeped in familiar civic and ethical messages — about industry, integrity and self-sufficiency — that many students’ parents had also read when they were in school.
For those of us who cherish the freedom to read, the current wave of attacks on books in schools and libraries is disheartening. For the teachers and librarians on the front lines, it is far worse. They are being attacked for choosing books that reflect the needs of their students and patrons. They are accused of “grooming” children for sexual abuse, or indoctrinating them with allegedly anti-American ideas about race. In the face of these threats, many are considering leaving the profession they love.
The vitriol is also being directed at the parents, students, and community members courageously standing up and speaking out at public meetings against banning books.
But it would be a mistake to give in to despair. Americans have been successfully fighting for the freedom to read for over a century. In the 1920s, for example, the newly organized American Civil Liberties Union denounced efforts by super-patriots to turn schools into a vehicle for their propaganda. It also challenged a ban on the teaching of evolution in Tennessee with the help of a science teacher named John Scopes.
Publishers, booksellers, and librarians joined the fight against book-banning efforts in 1953, after Sen. Joseph McCarthy led a campaign to purge books by 75 “communist authors” from libraries operated by the U.S. State Department. The American Library Association and the American Book Publishers Council responded by issuing a statement, “The Freedom to Read,” in which they declared such a freedom as “essential to our democracy.” Even President Dwight Eisenhower joined the fight. “Don’t join the book burners,” he said.
The next two decades saw significant advances in protecting free speech, as the Supreme Court struck down laws that Southern states were using to suppress the civil rights movement, while also expanding artistic freedom and broadening protections for protesters. But book banning surged again in the 1980s, when conservative groups sought to silence authors like Judy Blume, who wrote about sex and the other complex issues facing young people. The number of book challenges in schools and libraries shot up to more than 1,300 a year.
Once again, publishers, librarians, and booksellers successfully fought back. The ALA launched Banned Books Week in 1982 to counter claims that libraries were harming children. Libraries and bookstores mounted displays of challenged books to give people a chance to see what the book banners were attacking. The most significant achievement of this period was the adoption by many schools and libraries of a formal process for evaluating challenged books.
Previously, there had been nothing to stop a school official from simply pulling challenged books off shelves. Today, most school districts require a written complaint. When a complaint is filed, the school responds by forming a review committee that usually includes a professional (a librarian or teacher), a parent, and sometimes a student.
PG worked in a large university library as one of many jobs to work his way through college.
From that experience and interactions with a great many academic and public librarians over the years, he treated all with courtesy. Some were “professionals” per the OP and others who worked full-time were not particularly intelligent or well-educated. Some even expressed personal opinions with which PG did not agree.
The OP made PG cringe for two reasons:
Joe McCarthy died in 1957. However, some individuals can’t resist digging him up, likely because nobody like him has gained high public office since then.
The OP mentions “a professional (a librarian or teacher)” implying their employment makes them an authority on what books should and shouldn’t be in a library accessible to children attending public schools. This is an example of a long-recognized logical error, commonly called “appeal to authority.”
From Logically Fallacious:
Appeal to Authority
argumentum ad verecundiam
(also known as: argument from authority, ipse dixit)
Description: Insisting that a claim is true simply because a valid authority or expert on the issue said it was true, without any other supporting evidence offered. Also see the appeal to false authority .
According to person 1, who is an expert on the issue of Y, Y is true.
Therefore, Y is true.
Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist and perhaps the foremost expert in the field, says that evolution is true. Therefore, it’s true.
Explanation: Richard Dawkins certainly knows about evolution, and he can confidently tell us that it is true, but that doesn’t make it true. What makes it true is the preponderance of evidence for the theory.
How do I know the adult film industry is the third largest industry in the United States? Derek Shlongmiester, the adult film star of over 50 years, said it was. That’s how I know.
Explanation: Shlongmiester may be an industry expert, as well as have a huge talent, but a claim such as the one made would require supporting evidence. For the record, the adult film industry may be large, but on a scale from 0 to 12 inches, it’s only about a fraction of an inch.
. . . .
Appeal to Authority: Insisting that a claim is true simply because a valid authority or expert on the issue said it was true, without any other supporting evidence offered. Also see Appeal to False Authority.
As record-breaking temperatures baked Seattle this summer, box fan sales spiked, wading pools grew crowded, health warnings were issued …
And libraries closed.
There were more than 130 full- or partial-day closures due to heat in June, July and August, according to the Seattle Public Library.
Nine of the system’s 27 branches lack air conditioning, and SPL’s current policy is to close them when indoor temperatures hit or are expected to hit 80 degrees for more than an hour.
Such closures have become more common recently, interrupting services at the branches that many Seattle residents rely on for checking out books, internet use and resting in a quiet environment.
SPL staffers don’t like the closures, because they get in the way of processing materials and interacting with patrons, said Jessica Lucas, teen services librarian at the Northeast branch and vice president of AFSCME Local 2083, the union for Seattle library workers. The book drops stay open so returned books pile up. Staffers are usually redeployed to branches with air conditioning, which means extra travel, Lucas added. But the closures are necessary nonetheless, because working in the heat is worse, she said.
“Some patrons really understand and some don’t get it at all,” said Lucas, who sometimes hears patrons complain. “We have to be in here all day long for an eight-hour shift and do physical work during that time.”
SPL’s heat-closure threshold used to be 90 degrees but was lowered to 85 degrees in 2018, based on “health and safety concerns for staff and patrons” and an increase in multiday heat waves, SPL spokesperson Laura Gentry said. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the system is using a temporary threshold of 80 degrees because employees are required to wear masks, which can increase discomfort in hot temperatures, Gentry said.
The Green Lake and University branches had the most full-day heat closures this summer, canceling service completely for seven days each. The Northeast branch, currently the system’s busiest for borrowing, had the most partial-day heat closures, with 19 days.
“This is part of a big story about how the Pacific Northwest in general is not equipped” for the consistently scorching summer weather Seattle is now experiencing, said Darth Nielsen, SPL’s assistant director of public services. “We see this as a long-term issue … and we have to respond to that.”
SPL plans to add air conditioning at several branches in the coming years and is seeking funds for the other branches, Nielsen said.
Six of the city’s nine branches without air conditioning, including Green Lake and University, were built more than 100 years ago with grants from New York steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, who funded libraries across the country.
In late spring 1928 librarians in the rare book collections at the Huntington Library in Southern California noticed that something was feasting on the volumes in their care. Rail and utilities titan Henry E. Huntington had established the library in 1920, spending a small fortune to gobble up a number of the largest and finest rare book collections in a relatively short time, and creating a truly priceless set of artifacts. Though Huntington died in 1927, he intended his collection to live on long after him, but as the librarians discovered, the volumes were literally too full of life. The problem with assembling a massive collection of books is that you necessarily collect the very organisms that feed on books.
Variously known as Anobium paniceum, the bread beetle, or the drugstore beetle, bookworms had been known to eat their way through “druggists’ supplies,” from “insipid gluten wafers to such acrid substances as wormwood,” from cardamom and anise to “the deadly aconite and belladonna,” wrote the librarian Thomas Marion Iiams, who led the preservation effort at the Huntington Library. He noted in an account of his struggles in Library Quarterly that the bookworm displays a “universal disrespect for almost everything, including arsenic and lead.” Iiams was new to the librarian profession and was certain that more experienced overseers of fine collections would have a solution to his bookworm problem. In haste, Iiams wrote letters to much older libraries and repositories—the Huntington itself was only eight years old—to learn precisely how they rid their precious books of the pest. He was alarmed to find that no one, not librarians at the Vatican nor at the oldest libraries in Britain, could offer a definitive prescription for how to protect books against the hardy insect. A number of the librarians he consulted thought bookworms to be a myth, and thus offered no help at all.
The letters, telegrams, and reading recommendations Iiams received mainly offered reasons why you can’t kill bookworms. His colleagues elaborated from afar the bookworm’s astounding resistance to traditional pesticides, its voracious appetite not just for book pages but for leather covers, for even the starchy glue that holds book bindings together. From those that did not doubt the bookworm’s existence or tenacity, Iiams received suggestions that ranged from the highly toxic, such as spraying books with formaldehyde—which is effective for preserving dead humans but a potent carcinogen for living ones—to the comical, such as sprinkling the shelves of the library with “a little fine pepper.” Other correspondents suggested that the latter tactic would have been ineffective since, according to The Principal Household Insects of the United States (1896), bookworms are actually “partial to pepper.” The United States Bureau of Entomology responded to Iiams’ query by admitting it had “never made a thorough study of insects affecting books.” It had, however, fumigated libraries with hydrocyanic acid gas, but mainly to destroy “such external feeding pests as cockroaches and silverfish and such nuisances as bedbugs.”
IlIiams grew up in Pasadena, and if he ever went to the Pasadena Public Library as a young man, he would have regularly used fumigated books. Amazingly, librarians considered the use of toxic fumigants to be consistent with a desire for “purified” air, probably because they were less concerned by air filled with toxins than the spread of contagious disease. As one epidemic after another swept through increasingly densely populated urban areas in the early twentieth century, public health officials newly empowered by a broader acceptance of germ theory sent notices to libraries when outbreaks occurred. These edicts forced libraries to close in some cases, to fumigate books in others, or even to burn books loaned to borrowers infected with yellow fever, spinal meningitis, scarlet fever, or bubonic plague. In 1908 Pasadena librarians took the precaution of fumigating 1,200 of the most circulated books. Several years later, they would begin fumigating all of the library’s books as a matter of course.
From the beginnings of the public library system, the public and open nature of book stacks provoked fear and the desire to purify the library’s aisles and reading rooms, to exclude both disease and social undesirables. In 1883, the same year as Andrew Carnegie’s first library construction grant, Charles Ammi Cutter, librarian of the Boston Athenaeum, opened the proceedings of the nascent American Library Association with an address called “The Buffalo Public Library in 1983.” In his futuristic vision, he first enters the delivery room: “There was nothing remarkable about it save the purity of the air. I remarked this to a friend, and he said that it was so in all parts of the building; ventilation was their hobby; nothing made the librarian come nearer scolding than impurity in the air.” According to Cutter, these futuristic librarians vigilantly monitor the temperature and atmosphere in all the rooms: “Everyone must be admitted into the delivery room, but from the reading rooms the great unwashed are shut out altogether or put in rooms by themselves. Luckily public opinion sustains us thoroughly in their exclusion or seclusion.”
The “great unwashed” were those poor and ill-clad individuals who did not conform to emergent standards of bodily hygiene. But cleanliness and purity and hygiene were terms that had deep biological connotations as well; they referred to a clean surface of the body as well as purity of character inside the body at a time when many people believed vice and crime and immoral propensities to be inherited traits. The social hygiene movement attempted to stem the spread of disease, prostitution, and other social problems, with many of its proponents also being eugenicists. Prior to Carnegie’s funding a network of public libraries throughout the United States, most libraries were private and supported by subscriptions. Cutter’s dream of a purified library of the future, a “public” library characterized by exclusion, or seclusion, reveals a central difficulty of creating a truly democratic public space in an era where social Darwinism and eugenics shaped “public opinion.” Up until the late nineteenth century, most libraries shunned lighting by natural gas because it was a fire hazard, not to mention bringing the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. They “preferred daylight and thus closed their doors by dark” until the arrival of electricity. Light bulbs allowed libraries to stay open later, which brought in more working people, some of whom would have certainly constituted Cutter’s “great unwashed.”
Reading and touching library books brought one into contact with the bodies, germs, and contagions of others. Books, like smallpox blankets, could be infected, and like people with contagious diseases, infected books were fumigated, treated, quarantined, and in some cases destroyed. One researcher experimentally infected books with scarlet fever and found that the dreadful germs could survive for eighteen days even in “lightly infected books.” Public health officials compelled librarians, by law, to literally sterilize books during epidemics by closing libraries and fumigating the stacks with poison gas. The cover of the February 1915 monthly bulletin of the Los Angeles Public Library, Library Books, informed readers of borrowing policies on its front page, concluding with a sentence clearly intended to comfort visitors and allay fears: “The library receives notice of all cases of contagious disease. No book may be drawn or returned by anyone living in a house where there is a contagious disease until the house and the book have been fumigated.” In Portland, Oregon, after a spinal meningitis outbreak in April 1907, the library closed for two days for the fumigation of 7,500 volumes, and any books that had been loaned out were fumigated immediately upon their return by borrowers. At the public library of Toledo, Ohio, books in homes with smallpox, diphtheria, and scarlet fever were not to be returned, and if they were returned, they were destroyed. The Free Library of Saranac Lake, New York, had “traveling libraries” of twenty-five or more books each “loaned to boarding houses for sick people in the vicinity. The books in these collections,” detailed a 1908 article in Library Journal, “are withdrawn permanently from general circulation and are never returned to the shelves of the library. Each time they are sent out they are carefully cleaned and fumigated.” Books and magazines sent through the mail were also suspect. In an 1895 letter to the editor in the British Medical Journal, a public health officer named Charles Porter told of the case of an illustrated newspaper sent from Denver, Colorado, to a family in Stockport, England, which seemed to have infected their four-year-old child with spinal meningitis. Upon reflection, Porter thought that valuable books didn’t have to be destroyed but could be kept for use “in the isolation hospital only,” quarantined along with humans. Less valuable ones could be burned. But neither the fumigation of individual books nor the toxic purification of a library’s air had ever been demonstrated to kill bookworms as effectively as they sterilized books of typhus and other plagues. So even if Iiams were familiar with fumigation techniques in libraries, it wouldn’t have solved his growing bookworm problem. Ultimately for Iiams, preserving his books would require more than just the use of poison gas. He needed a technological solution that would infuse the poison deeply into the books to eradicate even bookworm eggs and larvae.
Moving can be among life’s most trying family events. This is especially so when moving means downsizing. This Kat recently endured this trauma, after 35 years living in the same apartment with Mrs. Kat and the (once small, now grown) family Kittens. IP was not spared. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the move was dealing with his book collection.
While the digital world is threatening the future of the personal library, this Kat would like to believe that the personal library will survive. And, as long as it does, the library owner will face the challenge of dealing with the stark reality that while copyright may protect book contents at the incorporeal level, books only have personal meaning in their three-dimensional, physical context. But books take up space, which may, or may not, be readily available to accommodate the book lover and his collection when the time comes to move. What is one to do?
. . . .
First, why do personal libraries seem to expand even more than one’s middle-age waistline. It is not merely that they are a storage repository for books that have already been read. It is also more than the physical embodiment of one’s reading aspirations. Something deeper is going on. This has been explained by the author Nassim Nicholas Taleb (think “The Black Swan: the Impact of the Highly Improbable“), writing about the Italian novelist, Umberto Eco. Taleb observes:
The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?” and the others — a very small minority — who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones.
The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.
In other words, a personal library trends to expand because the ultimate aspiration of the library owner is to assemble an antilibrary. Let us assume that this Kat’s book collection has some (at least a scintilla of) characteristics of the antlibrary (which we still call a “library”, so readers have a more ready linguistic anchor). For Mrs. Kat, Eco’s waxing romantic about books may do wonders for one’s emotional well-being, but it does little to address the question necessitated by the move: what are we going to do with all those books (especially when most of them are in English, and this Kat lives in a non-English speaking country where they read from right to left)? Hence the order—”Downsize!”
There are several aspects to formulating a plan to downsize. First, one must determine when categories of books, if any, can be ruled out in wholesale fashion (where to dispose of them is a separate issue, as we describe below). For all other books, the guiding principle then becomes: the category is relevant, but all members of the category may not be treated equally. I.e., how to cull these books?
First, what about those books that have been read (which means, given this Kat’s reading habits, that there is copious underlining and other markings)? The answer is—”it depends”. Depending on how severe the downsizing will be, it is not sufficient to conclude that this Kat may wish to consult the book again in the future. The future is without end, but shelf space is limited. Tough choices are required.
As for fiction, one is tempted to conclude that it is usually easy to obtain another copy of a work of fiction, should this Kat wish to reread it. But not always. This Kat rereads “The Catcher in the Rye” every 5-10 years. That means his multiple copies, each with its own marking and notations, will remain; so too will all the novels of Jane Austen. When you know that you will for certain reread a book, a copy of that book will remain, even it could be easily acquired later if needed.
What about unread books, those which feature so prominently in Eco’s notion of the antilibrary? Three questions must be answered: First, how much do I want the mere presence of unread books to menace me, Eco-style? Second, how serious am I when I conclude to myself that I plan to read the book in the future (the “whom are you kidding” test)? Third, even if I am not really deceiving myself, are there enough reasonable hours in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead to make it actuarily reasonable that said book will indeed be read?
All of this means that a subset of all the books in this Kat’s library will survive the culling process. But what does one do with the books that have failed to meet the test? This is perhaps the most painful part of the process, because it means that these books must be disposed of. As a young reader, the first commandment of this bibliophile was that “thou shall not throw away any book”. For sure, libraries may do so, but that was part of the carrying out of their public service function (they too had to contend with too many books, too little space). Au contraire, when one’s (modest) private book collection is concerned.
Link to the rest at IPKat and thanks to C. for the tip.
For those who are of a certain age, let your heirs worry about it.
A library in a rural western Michigan town is asking the community there to restore its public financing after voters defunded it following a dispute over books with LGBT content.
Voters in Jamestown Township, Mich., located about 20 miles southwest of Grand Rapids, defeated a funding measure for the Patmos Library earlier this month, stripping 85% of its funding for next year. The library, which has an annual budget of about $250,000, is in danger of closing if it can’t replace those funds, said Larry Walton, president of the library’s board.
The Patmos Library, like many libraries and schools across the U.S., has become a center of debate about free speech and what materials are appropriate for children. Conservative groups and parents in some states have asked libraries to remove books they find objectionable, many of which deal with LGBT themes.
County commissioners in Llano, Texas, ordered a review of children’s books at the local library system last year. Some residents sued the judge, county commissioners and library board members in April after some books were banned.
In Vinton, Iowa, residents criticized their library for having LGBT staff and books with LGBT-related themes. The library temporarily closed in July after staff members quit amid the harassment.
Patmos Library’s last two directors also resigned following harassment at work from people who objected to the books with LGBT themes, according to Mr. Walton.
The American Library Association Executive Board said it was troubled by the increasing number of incidents of intimidation directed at library staff.
The American Library Association condemns “threats of violence and other acts of intimidation increasingly taking place in America’s libraries, particularly those acts that aim to erase the stories and identities of gay, queer, transgender, Black, Indigenous, persons of color, those with disabilities and religious minorities,” the group said in a statement.
The dispute over books in Jamestown began last November when a patron asked the library to remove the graphic novel “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” Mr. Walton said. Residents began asking for other books with LGBT themes to be pulled, including the graphic novels “Spinning” and “Kiss Number 8.”
. . . .
Groups of parents unhappy with the materials began coming to the library board’s monthly meetings, demanding the removal of the books, Mr. Walton said. The library declined to remove any books from circulation.
A group called Jamestown Conservatives that disagreed with the library’s decision to keep the books, organized a campaign to defund the library. The group passed out fliers stating the library has many books with LGBT content and “pornographic sexually graphic material,” according to a copy of the flier included in a packet for a library board meeting in June and viewed by The Wall Street Journal. The fliers also said the books were aimed at “very young and impressionable kids.”
. . . .
On Aug. 2, Jamestown voters struck down the funding measure for the library. The measure would have used property taxes to fund the library for 10 years.
In the United States, public libraries, especially those located in small towns, are right up there with Mom, apple pie and the American flag in terms of long-standing traditions of making books available to anyone in the community without charge.
This tradition was born and continues to be sustained by the local populace through a variety of public funding methods which, in PG’s experience, always include modest taxes paid by local citizens other than the most impoverished.
These libraries are managed by local librarians (who are often underpaid), but paid for by the populace through mechanisms created by democratically elected officials. Traditionally, virtually all local librarians paid close attention to local tastes in books and magazines because the people who had those tastes were contributing to the costs of acquiring and maintaining them.
While PG believes he has a bit more than a casual understanding of adults and children who are LGBT, he also has quite a lot of understanding of those who believe that children shouldn’t be exposed to such literature.
PG has also knows more than one friend who felt he/she, etc., would be described by one or more of those categories at one time in their lives, but who later came to regard themselves as falling into one of the traditional female/male categories and acted accordingly.
While he understands that reasonable people may disagree (and knows some who do), PG tends to come down on the side of local democracy having the ultimate say in what books should or should not be purchased with a portion of their tax money and placed in local public libraries located in communities where they live.
A librarian in Louisiana filed a lawsuit against two men and a conservative organization alleging they defamed her when they attacked her for supporting the teaching of books involving the LGBTQ community.
Amanda Jones, a middle school librarian and the president of the Louisiana Association of School Librarians, alleged in the lawsuit that a “public campaign” against her started after she spoke out against removing certain books from the Livingston Parish Library system at a board meeting.
The lawsuit states that Citizens for a New Louisiana posted on its Facebook on July 20, the day after the meeting, criticizing “anti-censorship folks” who opposed moving “sexually explicit and erotic materials targeting eight to ten-year-olds” to the adult section of libraries.
A second post from July 22 specifically referred to Jones, asking why she was “fighting so hard to keep sexually erotic and pornographic materials” in the children’s section. The lawsuit notes that a photo of Jones in the post is surrounded by a red circle with a white border, arguing it appears similar to a target.
Michael Lunsford, who leads the group, commented on the post that Jones was on the “public payroll” and was “’advocating’ for having erotica in the kids section.”
Link to the rest at The Hill and thanks to T. for the tip.
When the Kentucky Legislature started mulling a bill that would tighten control over public libraries earlier this year, librarians across the state called their lawmakers pushing for its defeat.
In the past, legislators would at least have heard them out, says Jean Ruark, chair of the advocacy committee of the Kentucky Library Association. Not this time.
“It seemed as though our efforts fell on deaf ears. There was a big outcry about the passage of that and they did it anyway,” Ruark says.
At a time when public school libraries have increasingly become targets in the culture wars, some red states are going further, proposing legislation aimed at libraries serving the community as a whole. A few of the bills would open librarians up to legal liability over decisions they make.
While some of these bills have quietly died in committee, others have been signed into law, and librarians worry that the increasingly partisan climate is making them vulnerable to political pressure.
“We’re seeing more indirect efforts to control what’s available to the community or to put in laws that would direct how the library staff collects books,” says Deborah Caldwell Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.
“A lot of this legislation is really concerning, largely because of the breadth and scope of it, but also because it removes local control from communities,” says Patrick Sweeney, executive director at EveryLibrary, an advocacy group that tracks the legislation.
The bill passed in Kentucky allows local library boards to be appointed by county officials. Sponsors argued that the move makes libraries, which are funded by local property taxes, more accountable to taxpayers.
But opponents say the legislation will undermine the independence of local librarians, which are supposed to serve the public as a whole.
“It’s giving all of this power to partisan elected officials in counties, and if their constituents start telling them they want to ban books, this would allow them to do it. This is incredibly dangerous,” says Kentucky state Rep. Patti Minter, a Democrat who opposed the bill.
Other states have reached further. In Iowa, a bill was proposed allowing city councils to overturn librarians’ decisions about what books to buy and where they’re displayed.
In Oklahoma, a bill was signed into law requiring public libraries to install filters on digital databases to prevent children from seeing obscene material. Anyone who deliberately flouts the law would face legal liability.
Most libraries already have filters in place, and Oklahoma state Rep. Todd Russ, a Republican, says he expects the bill to rarely if ever result in legal action.
“We’re trying to be good partners here, he says. “We’re not trying to create all these class action lawsuits. We want to work with them to help create good protection, common sense stuff.”
But other states, including Iowa and Idaho, have proposed similar bills, stripping away the legal immunity that librarians have traditionally enjoyed for the decisions they make.
Moreover, legal actions against librarians are not unheard of.
The bill passed in Kentucky allows local library boards to be appointed by county officials. Sponsors argued that the move makes libraries, which are funded by local property taxes, more accountable to taxpayers.
But opponents say the legislation will undermine the independence of local librarians, which are supposed to serve the public as a whole.
PG says if county officials are elected by the people in the county, are they not also tasked with serving the people in the county? And if the people of the county disagree with those county officials about libraries, decisions of local library boards the county or city elected officials appoint or anything else, presumably, they can replace those officials at the next election or, perhaps, if state law permits, even start a petition drive to recall the county or city officials they’re unhappy with and replace them with others the people choose.
Are local librarians elected by the people who use the libraries and/or pay taxes for staffing libraries and acquiring books “for the public as a whole?”
In PG’s perhaps biased observations, there are a lot of news items that talk about schools and other institutions that directly interact with children to be “safe spaces.”
While the definition of “safe spaces” is certainly up for dispute and may differ from place to place, but shouldn’t elected county or city officials ultimately carry the responsibilities for determining what the local community wants “safe spaces” to be and what should be in or not in “safe spaces”?
Librarian Suzette Baker said she faced a hard choice last year when her boss asked her to hide a book on critical race theory behind the counter.
“OK, I’ll look into it,” Baker recalled telling her boss at the time.
But eventually, Baker — a librarian at the Llano County Public Library’s Kingsland Branch — decided to ignore the request. And she continued to vocally protest other decisions, like the ban on ordering new books. She spoke up, telling her supervisors that the library was facing a censorship attack.
By February, the pressure to keep new or donated books from the shelves increased, she said. After waiting weeks for a local library board to approve the books Baker wanted to add to her library, Baker’s boss would tell her that even donated books could not reach the shelves.
On March 9, Baker was fired for insubordination, creating a disturbance and failure to follow instructions.
“This change is inevitable and you are allowing your personal biases, opinions and preferences to unduly influence your actions and judgment,” her dismissal documents stated.
Baker’s experience represents one of many new conflicts facing Texas librarians as book challenges continue to multiply. Many feel left out of decisions on banning books while also facing increased scrutiny from politicians, parents, and county and school district staff. Some have already quit, and others are considering it.
For those librarians working at schools and at public libraries, the pressure to keep some challenged books off the shelves is growing. And some Texas librarians say the insults and threats through social media and the added pressure from supervisors to remove books are taking a toll on the profession.
“It’s the job I’ve always wanted my entire life,” Baker said. “But then it started getting to be a place where it was hostile.”
. . . .
The Texas Tribune spoke to librarians in two independent school districts that have been at the center of book challenges and bans: Keller, northeast of Fort Worth, and Katy, west of Houston. One from each district spoke to the Tribune, but both asked that their names not be published because they feared harassment.
In Keller, local Facebook group pages and Twitter accounts have included pointed comments about librarians being “heretical” and portrayed them as pedophile “groomers” who order pornographic books. After a particular book challenge failed, one commenter included the phrase “pass the millstones,” a biblical reference to execution by drowning.
“It was heartbreaking for me to see comments from a community that I’ve loved and served for 19 years, directed towards me as a person,” the Keller ISD librarian said.
Several successful Keller ISD board candidates ran this month on campaign promises that they would increase parent involvement in education, including looking harder at school library books.
“I don’t think there’s been a day or an hour in the last 12 months that I haven’t been frightened and immobilized by what the future could look like,” the Keller ISD librarian said.
The Keller ISD librarian said she wants to talk with more parents about the books they want to ban, but so far, only one parent has reached out to her.
“This has been our experience in reality, and we still want to work together,” she said. “Communities have to come together. We can’t keep doing this back and forth.”
Parents and community members have challenged more than 30 books in Keller ISD since October, including the Bible and Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer.” The district has so far removed at least 10 from circulation, and librarians have not been able to order new books since that time, the Keller ISD librarian said.
A librarian In Katy ISD said the wave of book bans has left her less confident about what new books to order for her school library.
She considered ordering a collection of short stories called “Growing Up Trans: In Our Own Words” but worried the book may be targeted for removal.
“Should I play it safe?” she said. “Or should I push the envelope and get a couple and see what happens?”
She worries that librarians will soon be able to fill shelves with only books included on pre-approved lists.
“Are we going to get there?” she said. “Are you just gonna take everything away that I came into this job wanting to do?”
I had a bit of a situation recently after I featured my newest nonfiction picture book in a presentation to a Texas audience of engrossed fourth graders and their unnerved teachers. By “a bit of a situation,” I mean it was a Very 2022 Mess that threatened to spill over into my scheduled visits to several other elementary schools in the same district.
The book in question was Moving Forward: From Space-Age Rides to Civil Rights Sit-ins with Airman Alton Yates, illustrated by Steffi Walthall and published by Simon & Schuster’s Beach Lane Books. At the heart of things was a request—soon followed by multiple requests—that I instead present a different, not-civil-rights-related book to other local students. And behind that initial request? Fear.
The details are convoluted and not terribly important. But there are two takeaways:
1) Through a lot of private dialogue with the librarians hosting me in the district, we worked things out, and my presentations at the other schools I visited did indeed focus on Moving Forward—a story of courage, sacrifice, teamwork, progress, and public service—in its entirety.
2) You and I can help prevent situations like this from occurring in the first place.
I assume it’ll come as no surprise to you to hear that there’s an anti-democratic mob attacking this country’s schools, libraries, educators, and librarians—unless you yourself are part of the anti-democratic mob, in which case that might not be how you’d characterize yourself. (You’d be wrong.)
This mob is deliberately whipping up a climate of politicized fear as it strives to cast books, public education, diversity, and the freedom to read as threats to be repelled by them rather than as resources and gifts to be treasured by us all. I don’t believe that this noisy, unruly element represents the majority of us. What this element lacks in numbers, however, it makes up for in commitment to making itself heard and getting its way. But for those of us in the majority—those of us who, among other things, oppose using intimidation to suppress ideas we don’t like—what we boast in sheer numbers, we seem to lack in commitment to putting our strengths and values to work.
Specifically, I see far too little demonstrated support for the people who keep our schools and libraries going. I don’t mean support only when a particular institution is under assault; I’m talking about routine, proactive, never-taking-them-for-granted support. And if teachers, librarians, and the people who work with them—including administrators and public officials—don’t get a sense of that support from the broader population, what exactly is going to reinforce their resolve to do the democracy-minded thing when they’re under pressure from the aggressive and all-too-visible reactionary fringe?
PG notes that it’s a natural human reaction to disagreements about values for each side of the disagreement to defend their own personal values.
Unfortunately, there’s also a natural human reaction during such disagreements to denigrate people who disagree with your opinions. Such reactions, at least these days in the United States, quickly move to reliance on Ad Hoc arguments, sometimes called Ad Hoc fallacies.
Here’s a definition:
Ad hoc fallacy is a fallacious rhetorical strategy in which a person presents a new explanation – that is unjustified or simply unreasonable – of why their original belief or hypothesis is correct after evidence that contradicts the previous explanation has emerged.
As such, it’s an attempt to protect one’s claim from any potential refutations and thus preserve their existing beliefs. Furthermore, the explanation is specifically constructed to be used in a particular case and is created hastily at the moment rather than being the result of deliberate, fact-based reasoning.
A second element PG has seen in disputes like that described in the OP is the fallacy of Appeal to Authority.
Here’s a definition:
Appeal to authority is a common type of fallacy, or an argument based on unsound logic.
When writers or speakers use appeal to authority, they are claiming that something must be true because it is believed by someone who said to be an “authority” on the subject. Whether the person is actually an authority or not, the logic is unsound. Instead of presenting actual evidence, the argument just relies on the credibility of the “authority.”
Seven residents in Llano County, Texas, are suing county officials, claiming their First and 14th Amendment rights were violated when books deemed inappropriate by some people in the community and Republican lawmakers were removed from public libraries or access was restricted.
This county of 21,000 people in the Texas Hill Country is now part of the growing number of communities in the United States where conservative groups and individuals have pushed to control what titles people have access to and singled out books that deal with race, gender or sexuality. The lawsuit, filed Monday in US District Court for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio, claims county officials removed books from the shelves of the three-branch public library system “because they disagree with the ideas within them” and terminated access to thousands of digital books because they could not ban two specific titles.
“Public libraries are not places of government indoctrination. They are not places where the people in power can dictate what their citizens are permitted to read about and learn. When government actors target public library books because they disagree with and intend to suppress the ideas contained within them, it jeopardizes the freedoms of everyone,” the lawsuit states.
. . . .
In the lawsuit, Leila Green Little, a mother who lives in Llano County, and the other six plaintiffs argue that county officials removed several children’s books last August in response to complaints from a group of community members who described them as inappropriate. Those titles include “In the Night Kitchen” by Maurice Sendak and “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health” by Robie H. Harris.
Months later, Texas Rep. Matt Krause launched an inquiry into whether 850 books on the subjects of race or sex that might “make students feel discomfort” were in public school libraries and classrooms. The lawsuit says Wallace eventually sent a spreadsheet with the books from that list that were available in Llano County library’s collection.
. . . .
Shirley Robinson, executive director of the Texas Library Association, said she hopes the lawsuit inspires people in other communities to speak up.
“It is a shame that this unnecessary culture war has led to this, but we applaud the efforts of these individuals to utilize the justice system to speak up and say with a clear voice ‘enough is enough,'” Robinson said. “We didn’t ask for this fight, but we’re certainly not going to lay down and let subjective opinion and politics restrict the freedom to read.”
In a recent analysis, PEN America, a literary and free expression advocacy organization, found that 1,145 books were banned in communities across the United States from July 1, 2021, to March 31, 2022. The majority of those bans involved departures from best practices established by National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and the American Library Association regarding how books and instructional materials should be challenged in schools and libraries, the group said.
For Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN America’s Free Expression and Education program, the lawsuit in Llano County could have a significant impact on the current climate and serve as a reminder of the constitutional protections that people around the country have.
Friedman told CNN there has been “a kind of abrogation of duty” to uphold the First Amendment and there has been “very little resistance” from officials when there are demands to remove materials from school or public libraries.
“Whether that’s in the school board or whether that’s in a library, somebody wants something gone and it appears to be going. At their meetings, there’s no resistance, there’s no friction, there’s no one in some of these rooms saying ‘well, hold on a minute, let’s make sure we exercise due diligence, due process, consider the kind of diversity of opinions as people who our institution serves,'” Friedman said.
PG suggests that, regardless of one’s personal opinions about the library battles involving public school and community libraries in various parts of the United States, such strident disagreements are not good for the welfare of such libraries moving forward.
Schools and public libraries have budgets, generally set by one or more groups of elected officials. Budgets for public libraries can be cut to the point that such libraries become unable to serve their patrons or would-be patrons either completely or in any meaningful way.
If librarians decide to choose other ways of earning their living or move to other locations where turmoil is not a feature of their working lives, there is not a guarantee that replacements will be found.
A large organization that drives the training of U.S. librarians and their use of public funds has chosen a self-described “Marxist lesbian” as its next president amid growing concern about libraries actively connecting children to sexually explicit activities and materials.
Emily Drabinski was elected president of the American Library Association last week by the organization’s members. She will take office in July 2023.
ALA’s approximately 54,000 members include librarians, libraries, library graduate schools, members of library boards and associations, and library students. The vast majority of its membership fees, therefore, are provided by taxpayer funds.
Drabinski won with 5,410 votes from such an electorate, compared to her opponent’s 4,622 votes, according to an ALA press release. The election was conducted online.
The interim chief librarian of The Graduate Center at City University of New York (CUNY), where she was previously the “critical pedagogy librarian,” Drabinski posts openly on her Twitter feed in support of sexually exposing children, union-led political strife, socialist politicians, and libraries pushing explicit and far-left material on unwilling taxpayers.
. . . .
“I so value Emily’s work in intentionally bringing a class, labor, and queer consciousness to her efforts as an anti-racist ally,” wrote fellow ALA member April M. Hathcock in a public endorsement of Drabinski.
PG noted in the OP that the new union president received the support of 10% of the members of the ALA and the number of members who effectively boycotted the election by not voting for anyone was over 80% of the total ALA membership.
PG did a little research on the ALA website and discovered that there are about 166,000 paid librarians in the United States plus an additional 200,000 “paid staff”, so 5,410 voters for Ms. Drabinski as ALA president is not necessarily an indication that she speaks for anything close to most librarians.
PG will also note that nobody is a Marxist any more and labor unions are representing a declining number and percentage of workers in the US – 10.3% currently per PG’s research at the website of the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the US Department of Labor. In 1983, about 20% of the US workforce were members of labor unions.
Effectively none of the employees of the giant tech companies in the US that are responsible for most of the economic growth over the last 25-35 years are members of labor unions.
PG further suggests that neither leader of Russia or China are Marxists/Communists that Lenin would have recognized as such, just old-fashioned thugs/dictators who are so distanced from the proletariat as to be totally out of touch with the lower-income 80% of the population of their nations.
(PG understands that he is using traditional gendered pronouns in his description of Drabinski which the Prez may not like. While he means no personal offense, he can’t be bothered with following trends in personal pronouns or labor unions.)
For years, the digital media service Hoopla has given library patrons access to ebooks, movies, and audiobooks through bulk subscriptions sold to public libraries. But more recently, librarians have started calling for transparency into the company’s practices after realizing its digital ebook collection contains countless low-quality titles promoting far-right conspiracy theories, COVID disinformation, LGBTQ+ conversion therapy, and Holocaust denial.
In February, a group of librarians in Massachusetts identified a number of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic books on Hoopla, including titles like “Debating The Holocaust” and “A New Nobility of Blood and Soil”—the latter referring to the infamous Nazi slogan for nationalist racial purity. After public outcry from library and information professionals, Hoopla removed a handful of titles from its digital collection.
In an email obtained by the Library Freedom Project last month, Hoopla CEO Jeff Jankowski explained that the titles came from the company’s network of more than 18,000 publishers: “[The titles] were added within the most recent twelve months and, unfortunately, they made it through our protocols that include both human and system-driven reviews and screening.”
However, quick Hoopla keyword searches for ebooks about “homosexuality” and “abortion” turn up dozens of top results that contain largely self-published religious texts categorized as “nonfiction,” including several titles like “Can Homosexuality Be Healed” which promote conversion therapy and anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. This prompted a group of librarians to start asking how these titles are appearing in public library catalogs and why they are ranked so high.
“If [ebooks containing disinformation] were on the tenth page of results it wouldn’t be as noticeable, but they’re on the first page of results,” Jennie Rose Halperin, the executive director of Library Futures, told Motherboard. “What this says to me is that vendors don’t think people who are accessing resources through public libraries deserve quality, verifiable information.”
Hoopla serves more than 3,000 library systems and is in more than 8,500 public libraries across the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Hoopla allows library users to check out ebooks from their personal devices. All anyone needs to explore Hoopla’s ebook catalog is a registered public library card. Hoopla is one of a few major ebook vendors libraries use to ensure library-goers have access to digital content. But unlike other services like Overdrive, which lets librarians order individual ebooks, Hoopla only sells ebook subscriptions, meaning that libraries have little choice over what titles they’re getting from the service.
Unlike print books that libraries can buy directly from publishers, publishers only sell lending rights to ebooks using third-party vendors like Hoopla. Ebook use has been on the rise for the past decade, and vendors like Overdrive and Hoopla have claimed dramatic increases in ebook checkouts during the pandemic when many libraries were unable to operate at a full in-person capacity. Since March 2020, demand for ebook titles from lending services like Hoopla soared.
Sarah Lamdan, a law professor at the City University of New York School of Law data analytics companies in publishing says many libraries choose to subscribe to bundles because it’s cheaper for libraries that are already strapped for cash.
“We lease these streams of content like on Netflix or Spotify,” Lamdan told Motherboard. “It’s more expensive to be deliberate and choose titles a la carte than it is to buy one of these bundles, and [libraries] are not given a lot of choice about it. Although libraries are super trusted and seen as so important to society, they’re not properly funded.”
“It’s just another way that the outsourcing of traditional information roles is really poisoning the well of fact and truth and reliable information sources,” Lamdan added.
Librarians also say that ebook subscription prices are unsustainable as they typically cost three times as much as a customer’s ebook purchase through Kindle. This is emblematic of at least a decade of tension in the digital library market in which librarians have little power to negotiate with publishers and vendors over prices that continue to climb. Libraries are also operating in a time loop where they have to keep purchasing licenses from the Big-Five publishers (Hachette Book Group, Harper Collins, Macmillan, Penguin Randomhouse and Simon & Schuster) through what’s called “metered access.” Typically ebook subscription licenses expire after a two-year term or after 26 circulations per purchase. Except the price keeps climbing.
It seems like every day there’s a new slate of bad news for the queer community in the United States. From anti-trans legislation in Texas to the Florida governor signing the “Don’t Say Gay” bill to books being pulled off shelves—nationwide—for no reason other than who their writers are: queer authors, authors of color, and queer authors of color. It’s an unending slew of depressing headlines.
I feel helpless. When I hear the governor of Florida claim that discussion of sexual identity in school is “indoctrination,” I am filled with endless rage and sorrow. Telling kids about people like themselves is nowhere near as close to “indoctrination” as removing all other viewpoints and identities, or teaching them only one way to be good, and right, and acceptable. That’s the childhood I had, and its effects still linger.
Having lived through actual indoctrination, and knowing first hand what it’s like not having access to books that could have helped me see myself, and the larger world, in a better light, I am passionate about making sure future generations get to see their experiences; see those unlike them; and choose to live their lives to the fullest of their own identities. This is partly why I started writing queer stories myself—books helped me see my own identity more clearly. They helped me come out to myself as bisexual, and I want my writing to give that gift to others, especially teens who are trying to figure life out. As demoralizing as it is for me—a queer aspiring kidlit author—to read these headlines, they have a different impact on me than they do on the authors whose books are currently, and routinely, in danger of being pulled off shelves.
I spoke with two kidlit authors, Mark Oshiro and Kyle Lukoff, about what it’s like to have a book challenged and/or banned. Both of these authors are award-winning and beloved, and I’ve seen them speak out on social media against book bans, as well as the distressing effects of having their books challenged.
During our conversation, Oshiro referenced an interview Amanpour & Company did with Jason Reynolds, another author whose books have frequently been challenged and banned. Reynolds said having his books questioned in this manner, “ … offends me, and quite honestly, it hurts my feelings.” Oshiro added that seeing their books on lists challenging and banning them, “sucks a lot.” They said it reminds them of their own childhood, when sex education was so frowned on in their school district that there were literal portions of pages cut out of textbooks, which teachers could not acknowledge. “It’s triggering, it’s upsetting,” Oshiro said. “I worry about the kids who are in these emotionally precarious positions looking at the adults around them who … want to treat them like they don’t exist.”
PG posted this because it relates to books that public schools (or their boards or superintendents or principals or teachers or parents) don’t want to buy their books for students of the school to read.
As PG mentioned before, if an author publishes a book, does PG have to purchase it? Does PG have to purchase it in order to make it available for school-age children in the neighborhood around Casa PG?
Publishing a book doesn’t mean that anyone has the obligation, express or implied, to buy that book.
PG has no doubt that LGBQT authors are upset when people don’t want to by their books because of their identity. PG has no doubt that Baptist authors or Russian authors or African-American authors are upset when people don’t want to buy their books because of their religion or nationality or race.
Operating a library other than the Library of Congress involves choices – choosing one book and not choosing another. If you were a librarian working for a government entity whose salary is paid by the people in the local community, would you feel that the wishes of the people in the community regarding books you purchased or didn’t purchase should be considered? Honored? Respected?
If you want to buy books with no consideration of whether people who you think might want to read them or will want to borrow them for themselves or others, start a private library. Use your own money to buy the books. Collect voluntary donations from like-minded individuals for the purposed of acquiring books for your library.
For a public library in the US, ultimately, there is a group of someones somewhere who are elected by the majority of those who vote and those elected officials quite often want to please the people who elected them, thinking that the elected official would run the governmental entity for which she/he/they are responsible in a manner that the voters think is useful and wise.
Two of Charles Darwin’s notebooks, which went missing more than 20 years ago, have been returned to the Cambridge University Library unscathed.
The university said Tuesday that the nearly 200-year-old notebooks were found March 9, left in a public area of the library inside a bright pink gift bag with a note wishing the librarian a “Happy Easter.”
The notebooks, the size of postcards, contain Mr. Darwin’s notes as he worked out his theory of evolution. One of the notebooks contains the naturalist’s “Tree of Life” sketch from 1837, which sought to map out evolution and the relationship between species. Above the sketch are two words: “I think.”
Dr. Jessica Gardner, the university’s librarian, said that a colleague spotted the pink bag and brought it in. They looked inside to find a brown envelope with a typed message:
“That note is quite unusual,” Dr. Gardner said. “It absolutely adds to the mystery.”
. . . .
Within the envelope was a box they recognized as belonging to the library. Inside, the two notebooks were wrapped in plastic wrap, which isn’t how the library stored them. Still, Dr. Gardner recognized the notebooks and was sure it was the missing ones. She didn’t remove the plastic wrap until the police gave the OK to do so six days later.
“It was a really thrilling moment,” Dr. Gardner said about unwrapping the notebooks and looking through the pages.
The notebooks are believed to have gone missing in 2000, when they were taken out of the library’s archive to be photographed. The library didn’t notice they were gone until a routine check in 2001. Some at the library thought they may have just been misplaced.
. . . .
It isn’t currently known where the notebooks were. Dr. Gardner, who became the university’s librarian in 2017, said the police have the pink gift bag and the envelope, as well as security camera footage from the day they were returned.
. . . .
The notebooks will be displayed in a free exhibition at the library in July. But for now, they’re hidden away.
“They’re safe and tight in a vault,” Dr. Gardner said.
The day of the incident it had been only me and Ms. Roberts at the circulation desk. I was one month into the job and used to calling these kinds of things “incidents” by then. The yelling was coming from the Adult Fiction section, an area with four tables that made up the far-right corner of the larger square that was the library. Walls of tall bookcases made it into its own square, and it was impossible to see into it unless you were standing right within it. Only one chair, tucked in between the emergency exit and a single bookcase—the Fiction A’s—could be seen from the circulation desk. A few weeks earlier, a patron had overdosed while sitting in it, his skin already blue by the time someone at the desk noticed and called 911.
I knew it was Christian who was yelling before I reached him. He was a regular patron who kept his cell phone in a holster on his hip and a Bluetooth piece in his ear, loudly taking frequent phone calls until an employee would tell him to hang up or take it outside. The other two people sitting at the table with him kept their eyes fixed down as he yelled up at an older woman who was standing near him. I recognized her by the long flowing dress and colorful silk headscarf she always wore, but I did not know her name. The woman often annoyed other patrons by asking to borrow items from them—a cell phone, a tissue, a bit of their food—and would hover until she got a yes. Whatever she had asked him for that day annoyed him to a point where he had been saying “fuck you” for a while, obviously angry, but I don’t know that anyone expected what happened next.
Christian stood and used both of his hands to shove the woman backward as hard as he could. Her thin body flew into the wooden bench behind her and her head audibly cracked on contact before she rolled to the floor.
I instantly started to yell. “Out! Out! Get out!”
The other patrons finally looked up, most of them staring at me. I was the woman with pink hair, the newest hire who was usually the most patient and friendly at the circulation desk, yet here I was now, angry and yelling.
Christian turned toward me, shouting how he’d done nothing and I didn’t know shit. Spit was flying from his mouth. Two patrons I didn’t know were cradling the woman’s head as she lay sprawled out on the floor next to the bench. I tried to check for blood while simultaneously watching Christian.
. . . .
Libraries are often referred to in warm language: safe place, sanctuary, freedom granting, for all. There is the famous Jorge Luis Borges quote: “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” And similar sentiments from Albert Einstein: “The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.” From Ray Bradbury: “Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.” From Judy Blume: “I think of libraries as safe havens for intellectual freedom. I think of how many times I’ve been told about a librarian who saved a life by offering the right book at the right time.” And Margaret Atwood: “There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library.”
Warm understandings of libraries have long permeated our media as well: the Breakfast Club members find comradery in their school library, Hermione and Harry and Ron discover life-saving solutions and spells at the Hogwarts Library, Belle finds sanctuary and a sense of Beast’s humanity in his private library, Mrs. Phelps offers Matilda the beginning of her exit from an abusive home, the cast of The Magicians frequent the library for answers and deep conversations, and so on.
. . . .
There is nothing incorrect about any of these beautiful assertions or imagined scenarios. But there remains a somewhat perplexing overarching social assumption that libraries are social equalizers and asylums from the rest of the world in ways that no other American institutions quite are—that libraries are good, as opposed to the bad people sometimes ascribe to museums and other shared spaces that have been criticized for being elitist and otherwise exclusionary or fraught.
When I tell someone for the first time that I was a librarian for seven years, their face usually lights up. Sometimes they want to tell me about their childhood library, or the last time they went to their local branch, or ask if I’ve read a particular book. Sometimes they just want to know what the work was really like. Was it quiet all the time? Did I read books all day? Did I have to go to school for that? Do I have glasses? Did I shhh?
They often tell me, last, about how much they love libraries. I tell them I do too.
And I do.
. . . .
In my own social circles, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like libraries, even if they haven’t patronized one in decades. According to the American Library Association’s (ALA) State of America’s Libraries Report 2019, there are more public libraries—16,568—in the United States than Starbucks cafés—14,606. 100 percent of those public libraries provide Wi-Fi and nearly 100 percent offer no-fee access to computers. The ALA’s 2020 report notes that “the popularity of libraries is surging” and cites a 2019 Gallup survey poll that visiting the library is the most common cultural activity Americans engage in “by far,” with US adults taking an average of 10.5 trips to the library, “a frequency that exceeded their participation in eight other common leisure activities. Americans attended live music or theatrical events and visited national or historic parks roughly four times a year on average and visited museums and gambling casinos 2.5 times annually.”
The State of America’s Libraries reports are released during National Library Week every April as annual summaries of library trends, and they include statistics and issues affecting all types of libraries, including public ones. The State of America’s Libraries Report 2019 notably states that public libraries “are a microcosm of the larger society. They play an important and unique role in the communities that they serve and provide an inclusive environment where all are treated with respect and dignity. No longer just places for books, our public libraries serve as a lifeline for some of our nation’s most vulnerable communities.” The report goes on to note that “homelessness and addiction are two of the most difficult issues facing communities today. They often go hand in hand.”
The ALA notes on its website that “[unhoused people] face a wide range of challenges including lack of affordable housing, employment opportunities, healthcare, and other needed services. As many public librarians know, with no safety net to speak of, homeless citizens often turn to the library for help.” It is common for libraries to be patronized by marginalized and vulnerable groups, whether they are in rural, suburban, or city settings, for a wide variety of reasons including free access to a temperature-controlled environment, clean drinking water, and Wi-Fi, and computers—because, of course, all public libraries are shared spaces. They do not exclude anyone, including people suffering from addiction, trauma, mental health struggles, and other internal, and often externalized, battles.
That unhoused people regularly patronize libraries has become more commonly known in recent years and is a fact that impacts some library users’ desire to visit certain branches in their local library systems. Although there is no statistic on this, my own experience working within the DC Public Library system showed me time and again that the majority of middle- and upper-class library patrons who wanted to sit and work at a library preferred to visit branches in certain neighborhoods around the District over others, even if it was not their closest neighborhood branch. These same people would comfortably pick up holds from their local branch because it did not require them to linger in the space, but they opted for other libraries if they wanted to stay for longer than a few minutes. I have close friends in New York City, Portland, Seattle, Bethlehem, Buffalo, and DC who have similar practices and preferences. Some of them take their children to library story times as well, but again, there are branches in their local library systems where they would choose not to take their children and where they would prefer not to pick up books or try to work, whether that is something they can comfortably admit or not. It is obvious through data that libraries are still regularly used all over the country by people from all races and socioeconomic statuses, but the reasons they use libraries differ greatly. While library usage remains statistically prevalent and on the rise, I continue to be interested in the question of by whom, where, and for what reasons.
. . . .
Two weeks before Christian assaulted the woman, I had been in the Adult Fiction area reshelving books. The collection was often disorganized—a side effect not so much of being understaffed, but of staff never agreeing whose job it was to reshelve—and the disarray often doubled how long it took to find the correct place for books on the shelf. Generally, I didn’t mind reshelving, but I tried to never linger in the area. Male coworkers had warned me early on not to—female employees were particularly vulnerable back there. If something was going to go wrong, it was going to go wrong in the Adult Fiction area.
I was on my tiptoes that day, impatiently searching spines for the letters PAT when I heard him from behind me.
“There’s my White girl with a booty.”
I went momentarily stiff and then shrank the only way I could shrink in the moment—back down to flat feet, arms crossed protectively over my chest, book pinned against my sternum with my pointer finger hooked slightly on the plastic of the spine label, pressing my flesh into it. I had spent most of my adult life trying to avoid this exact situation: feeling cornered and vulnerable, especially around men. There was laughter—three, four, five male echoes of it—and I moved my body sideways instead of turning around to look. I tossed the James Patterson paperback on an otherwise emptied cart and beelined to our small back work office.
PG’s reaction to the OP was that, if he had experienced anything remotely like what is described in the OP in ancient times when he worked in a large university library, he would have immediately quit and found a job waiting tables at a restaurant or something similar.
He understands that not everyone can make such a choice instantly, but it’s hard for him to believe that someone qualified to be a librarian couldn’t find alternate employment in most cities.
Dillon Helbig, a second-grader who lives in Idaho, wrote about a Christmas adventure on the pages of a red-cover notebook and illustrated it with colored pencils.
When he finished it in mid-December, he decided he wanted to share it with other people. So much, in fact, that he hatched a plan and waited for just the right moment to pull it off.
Days later, during a visit to the Ada Community Library’s Lake Hazel Branch in Boise with his grandmother, he held the 81-page book to his chest and passed by the librarians. Then, unbeknown to his grandmother, Dillon slipped the book onto a children’s picture-book shelf. Nobody saw him do it.
“It was naughty-ish,” Dillon, 8, said of covertly depositing the book without permission. But the result, he added, is “pretty cool.”
The book, titled “The Adventures of Dillon Helbig’s Crismis,” is signed “by Dillon His Self.”
He later confessed to his mother, Susan Helbig, that he slid his book into the stacks and left it there, undetected. But when they returned about two days later, to the spot where he left the notebook, it was missing. Helbig called the library to ask whether anyone had found Dillon’s notebook and to request that they please not throw it away.
Branch manager Alex Hartman said he was surprised at Dillon’s bold move.
“It was a sneaky act,” said Hartman, laughing. But Dillon’s book “was far too obviously special an item for us to consider getting rid of it.”
Hartman and a few co-workers had discovered and read Dillon’s book — which describes his adventures putting an exploding star on his Christmas tree and being catapulted back to the first Thanksgiving and the North Pole. They found it very entertaining.
Hartman read the book to his 6-year-old son, Cruzen, who giggled and said it was one of the funniest books he’d ever known.
“Dillon is a confident guy and a generous guy. He wanted to share the story,” Hartman said. “I don’t think it’s a self-promotion thing. He just genuinely wanted other people to be able to enjoy his story. … He’s been a lifelong library user, so he knows how books are shared.”
The staff librarians who read Dillon’s book agreed that as informal and unconventional as it was, the book met the selection criteria for the collection in that it was a high-quality story that was fun to read. So, Hartman asked Helbig for permission to tack a bar code onto the book and formally add it to the library’s collection.
Dillon’s parents enthusiastically said yes, and the book is now part of the graphic-novels section for kids, teens and adults. The library even gave Dillon its first Whoodini Award for Best Young Novelist, a category the library created for him, named after the library’s owl mascot.
. . . .
As luck would have it, the lone copy of “The Adventures of Dillon Helbig’s Crismis” has become a book in demand.
KTVB, a news station in Boise, reported on Dillon’s book caper earlier this month, and since then, area residents have begun adding themselves to a waiting list to check it out. As of Saturday, there was a 55-person waitlist.
. . . .
Dillon is also writing a different book about a closet that eats up jackets.
If you haven’t considered libraries as a market for your self-published book(s), you should.
Why? For one, there are 2.6 million libraries globally1, and they spend roughly $31 billion annually2! In the U.S., library expenditures are $14.2 billion a year2, and of this amount, $1.4 billion1 or 10.2% is spent on books!
Secondarily, the library market is growing! Two years after Joanna posted my original article, How To Get Your Book Into Libraries, the number of Academic Libraries worldwide grew to 95,361, a 111.8% increase, and Public Libraries globally grew to 406,834, a 39.4% increase! In the U.S., the number of Academic Libraries had grown 12.5%, and there were 90.5% more Public Libraries!
And third, libraries are purchasing more eBooks. According to the American Library Association (ALA), in 2020, OverDrive (a provider of eBooks to Libraries) loaned out more than 289 million eBooks worldwide, a 40 percent increase from 2019, a shift the company attributed to the global pandemic.
. . . .
If you wonder if libraries buy self-published books, the answer is, “Yes, they do.”
In its April 5, 2021 article, How Library Distribution Works for Indie Authors, the Alliance for Independent Authors (ALLI) shared the results of a 2016 survey conducted by US-based publishing service New Shelves. Per the survey, “… 92 percent of librarians reported that they regularly purchase from self-published authors and small presses.”
Although there still may be some libraries whose Collection Development Policy (the guidelines libraries use when making book purchasing decisions) might state they don’t buy self-published books, those excluding are becoming rarer and rarer.
I believe my situation is a good example. As of this writing, 156 libraries worldwide have acquired 192 copies of my self-published titles since I first introduced them to librarians a few years ago.
Also, in the last two years, I haven’t had one library inform me they don’t buy self-published books. And if you’ve heard that it’s hard getting a self-published book into a library, I would say, “It shouldn’t be easy because of the vital role libraries play in societies, but I and others are proof that it can be done.”
Who could have predicted the bright ray of light that shined on publishing during this pandemic! But it did shine, and will continue to shine, as people rekindle their love of reading and writing! Publishing is more profitable than ever before in its history…for the second year in a row.
Once the streaming binge of Netflix, Disney+, Hulu and other channels grew a bit stale, people rediscovered books and how reading engages the imagination making it a totally different enjoyment experience than passively watching a screen. Books have been selling at a brisk pace ever since. And the profits reaped by the publishing giants has soared. I wish some would make it back to writers and the publishing staff, but that’s another story altogether.
Now that we can breathe a sigh of relief, what does publishing have in store for us in 2022? Here are my predictions:
1. Self-publishing will continue to grow and be profitable.
Bookstores will continue to prosper, even as Amazon continues to grow its market share. For the year to date (2021), bookstore sales are up 39.6%, to $7.1 billion. And that’s an increase from a huge year last year.
All of publishing is healthy and there is no reason for you not to get back on that horse and finish writing your books.
2. Diversity will grow even more, both with authors and with publisher staffs.
So many high-level (VP and up) positions were created to encourage and hire diverse staff within publishers. To me that’s the second phase of diversifying publishing. Phase one began 3-4 years ago with editors buying books from a more diverse ethnic and cultural pool of authors.
I don’t see that phase slowing down anytime soon either. But with the hiring of high-level diverse employees within publishing companies in phase two, we can begin to see real change in the industry. It will be a joy to watch and we’ll all be the richer for it.
3. Hybrid workplaces will deepen and New York will be the center of publishing in name only.
All plans to return to the publishers’ offices in January 2022 were cancelled as the Omicron variant surged this past fall. I believe this signals a huge shift in how publishing is done. When editorial and art departments can work from home, creativity can soar.
Change can happen. And the bureaucracy will be replaced with new energy and passion when employees don’t have to spend endless hours in meetings. Even with an increase in Zoom meetings, multitasking can make them bearable.
Hybrid work environments, now that employees have their home workspaces dialed in, are a harbinger of the future. And employers will dig the extra profits they make from a dramatic decrease in overhead.
. . . .
5. Supply chain and paper shortage woes will continue.
It takes a long time to straighten out something as broken as the publishing supply chain. Books with a lot of images (children’s picture books, coffee table books, novelty books) are mainly printed in China. But the empty cargo containers in the U.S. are not making it back to China for refilling and that is slowing down everything.
As agents, we see publication dates stretching out to 2025 and beyond. And I’m predicting that it won’t be fixed in 2022. And when you add to that the high cost of paper, the price of books at retail is going up (along with everything else you buy).
6. There will be a legal battle over how ebook sales are regulated to libraries.
Again, states are trying to legislate how much publishers can charge libraries to loan ebooks. This is a big deal, since it is the largest growth area for public libraries…especially during the pandemic. But even after we can once again go out safely in public, ebook reading is experiencing a sea change that some readers will never go back from.
This topic needs to be legislated from the federal level if the publishers won’t see reason.
7. Publishing will look more deeply at changing its business model.
Publishing companies can no longer deny that the 200-year-old way they’ve been running their empires makes no economic sense.
Here’s what Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch had to say about it: “Publishers have long carried the overhead of big-city offices, travel and entertainment, in-person events, book fairs, and other accustomed ways of operating. We’ve been profitable enough that we haven’t pressured ourselves to learn all we could do through long-available online communications, digital marketing, and remote-working capabilities.”
Working from home, freed from onerous commutes, without in-person calls, pitches, conferences, and shows, publishers have opened their minds to new ways of working.” This gives me hope that as profitability soars due to changes in an inefficient business model, authors might actually benefit through modestly higher advances and larger royalty percentages (especially in ebooks…I mean come on!)
. . . .
10. eBooks are experiencing a growing spurt of popularity that is not going to diminish.
When you combine the paper shortage/price increases, supply chain woes and convenience of spontaneously acquiring an ebook in the privacy of your own home without having to get out of your pajamas, the lure is too sexy to resist.
For you self-published authors, time to get out your marketing and promotional hat, put your books on sale, spiff up the covers, really pay attention to your metadata (especially key search terms), so avid readers can find your work. Because ebooks are not going away.
11. Audiobook popularity will continue to grow.
See #10 above for reasons. Add in listening to stories while driving, making meals, exercising and you can see why.
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.