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Bills targeting book bans raise concerns about the penalties libraries could face

By 37ci3 Mar29,2024

Anti-book ban bills are gaining traction in state legislatures across the country, and with them come concerns about the potential negative impact on libraries themselves.

The number of banned books across the country increased by nearly two-thirds to more than 4,200 in 2023 compared to the previous year. A new report from the American Library Association. Freedom of speech advocacy group PEN America found Last school year, nearly 30% of the titles challenged in schools featured characters of color or discussed race and racism, and another 30% featured LGBTQ characters or themes. In addition, almost half of the banned books contained themes or instances of violence or physical abuse, and a third contained writing about sexual experiences between characters.

The increase in book bans caused Lawmakers in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and New Mexico will withdraw the bills. They follow Illinois and California, where similar legislation has been signed into law.

Experts are raising concerns because some legislation would fine school districts or cut off library funding if their provisions are not followed, such as in Illinois and California. They say the enforcement actions could be especially dangerous for underfunded and understaffed public schools and libraries.

“It’s always a concern when you stop funding for any reason,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom.

“We would not want to see overly prescriptive bills that make it harder for small communities or rural communities to get their funding.”

He added: “Our big concern is not to create a system that makes compliance with the bill so difficult that it hurts libraries with fewer resources.”

According to experts, budget restrictions can also lead to situations that can be misread as violations of state laws. For example, titles may be removed or lost from the shelves of schools or public libraries when books are damaged or lost, or when there is no money in the budget to purchase them. Staffing shortages may also hinder libraries’ staff panels that review books or instructional materials for approval or rejection. Some experts have argued that such challenges could be unfairly weaponized against schools or public libraries, which have come under increasing criticism and scrutiny as part of a growing movement to ban the books.

New Illinois law requires state libraries to adopt the American Library Association’s longstanding Library Bill of Rights, which states that reading materials cannot be banned, removed or restricted because of “partisan or doctrinal disfavor,” or alternatively a similar statement prohibiting banning of books . If public libraries don’t adopt such guidelines, they won’t be able to receive the government grant money that makes up a significant portion of their budgets.

When asked about concerns about the law, Democrat Laura Murphy, the sponsor of the measure, said in a statement to NBC News that adding to the financial threat to the legislation, lawmakers were “intentional in creating an advisory law with a mechanism to hold libraries accountable and an appeal for those who want to ban the books.” send a clear message that it will

He added that the introduction of the law gives it more ground and is a way to “further demonstrate our support for librarians” who support efforts to maintain an inclusive range of titles.

Emily Knox, an associate professor at the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said she believes linking the funding to the Illinois bill is necessary for its effectiveness.

“That’s what gives the bill no teeth at all,” he said. ‚ÄúLibraries and schools need more money, but because funding is so valuable to government agencies, you don’t want to do things that jeopardize the ability to get funding from a source like the state. So that makes a big difference.”

Knox said claims that funding could be weaponized against libraries in the state if they are targeted for not having certain titles on the shelf are incorrect based on wording in the legislation.

“This is what the draft law says [libraries] The ALA should support the Bill of Rights and have a process for revising the books. There is no information about what the outcome of this process will be.”

Because the Illinois bill dictates policies implemented by libraries rather than specifying which specific books should be on the shelves, libraries cannot be targeted for missing titles, Knox said.

And the law is already proving effective, he said, noting that the director of a public library in Metropolis, Illinois, was fired last month in part because he challenged the library board’s decision to comply with state law and adopt the ALA Bill of Rights. The board said it needed to do this in order to get the state grants the library needs.

California law focuses on punishing school districts if they are found to have rejected books from library shelves for discriminatory reasons, resulting in state Department of Education financial penalties. Gov. Gavin Newsom said the law aims to protect access to books that “reflect the diverse experiences and perspectives of Californians.”

Caldwell-Stone cautioned that in a national climate where librarians face growing criticism about the types of books they provide, laws against book bans must consider the potential pitfalls and burdens on library staff.

Some state lawmakers have reconsidered including financial penalties for libraries in bills amid fears of unintended consequences. Lawmakers in New Jersey removed the language from bills after librarians raised concerns.

State Sen. Andrew Zwicker, a sponsoring Democrat bsicksaid she grew concerned about the potential impact of such penalties after hearing about the criticism and scrutiny she received from several librarians amid growing difficulties with various book titles.

Washington and Oregon have advanced legislation against book bans that focuses on school districts, but neither includes fines like the California law. Washington’s bill Awaiting Gov. Jay Inslee’s pending signature and Oregon The measure was passed by the state Senate.

Both bills would prohibit the exclusion of instructional materials for including information about the role or contributions of individuals and groups protected from discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation and other characteristics.

Washington state representative Monica Stonier and Oregon state senator Lew Frederick, who introduced the corresponding bills, explained that their measure would simply enact review processes for textbooks used by school districts across the state and unify district protocols. protection against discrimination.

Lawmakers in Washington and Oregon who supported the laws said they plan to see how California’s enforcement provisions work before considering adding a fine to their bills.

“We already have a way to do it, so it doesn’t seem like we need to build another,” Frederick said. “I think it’s a simplistic approach because it just says you can’t discriminate.”

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