States That Have Banned Book Bans: Book Censorship News, June 14, 2024

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Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She’s the editor/author of (DON’T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

Several states nationwide have floated legislation to curtail book bans this year. Some of those bills, like the one proposed in Utah, were not only voted down but were superseded with bills that actually further fuel book bans. Other anti-book ban bills, however, made their way successfully through to law.

Let’s take a look at the states that have addressed the right to read and access materials at the library by law. This is as comprehensive as possible, with the acknowledgment that other bills may be pending as of writing or maybe in the works for the next legislative session. It does not include bills that address other library-related issues.

Illinois

Passed in 2023, the first-in-the-nation anti-book ban bill in Illinois ties funding to intellectual freedom policies in public and public school libraries. Basically, if a library wants access to a pot of state money for their institution, they need to have in their collection policies the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights and/or a comparable statement upholding the rights of everyone to access materials in the collection. Books and other items in the library cannot be removed for partisan or discriminatory reasons.

This is a great first step, though certainly, it hasn’t ended book bans in Illinois over the course of its first year as a law because it is fairly limited in scope (it was easy for a school board to ban an entire book reading program, for example). It also does not apply to prison libraries. But the signal this bill sends to libraries that the state is paying attention cannot be downplayed.

California

Also passed in 2023, the California anti-book ban bill applies to school boards specifically. They are unable to censor or ban books, curricula, textbooks, or other learning materials from the districts they oversee. The bill does not apply to public libraries or prison libraries. It also has not stopped school boards from censorship since implementation (not to mention that it’s public libraries bearing the brunt of censorship right now), but, like the bill in Illinois, it is at least an acknowledgment of an ongoing reality, even in a “blue” state like California.

There is a bill still alive in the state (AB 1825) — crossed over from the Assembly to the Senate in the past weeks — that would ban book bans more akin to how Illinois has.

Colorado

Passed in early June 2024, Colorado has implemented new laws requiring every public library to have a collection policy and, if they allow for books to be challenged, requiring policies governing the process. One thing this particular bill does that is noteworthy is it requires keeping track of the outcomes of every official book challenge in public libraries. It also makes the names of those seeking to remove books public. Both of these add a crucial layer of transparency to the process. The bill does not, however, codify that books cannot be removed for discriminatory reasons (though that was in the original draft).

Minnesota

Minnesota’s governor signed off on Senate File 3567 as part of a robust education bill. The portion related to libraries relates to both public and public school libraries, as well as public colleges and universities. All of these institutions are now required to have collection policies, as well as guidelines for the selection and reconsideration of material. This is similar to that passed in Colorado, though Minnesota’s bill makes it clear books cannot be removed on the basis of viewpoint or opinion alone.

Maryland

Also passed this year is Maryland’s Freedom to Read Act. In both public libraries and school libraries, the bill protects access to books and other library items by stating they cannot be removed or prohibited from collections because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval. Collections seek to serve the research and recreational needs of all, and materials cannot be excluded based on the origin, background, or views of their creator. Both school and public libraries would need to have collection development policies in place, and if a book were to be challenged, the title would remain on shelves and available for use through the reconsideration process.

Vermont

One of the more robust bills passed in 2024 is Vermont’s Protecting Libraries and the Freedom to Read Bill. Among the provisions are requiring libraries to have policies that align with the First Amendment and anti-discrimination laws. Legal protections for libraries and library workers throughout the state have been strengthened as well as more robust opportunities for education around libraries and their role in community and civic life would be created for library workers and trustees.

What makes Vermont’s legislation stand out, aside from its clear commitment to upholding and championing libraries, is that its emergence came following a report put together by library workers to give the legislature a real picture of the current state of the state’s institutions. You can read the full working group report here.

Washington

An anti-book banning measure for public schools passed in the state of Washington. HB 2331 is similar to the California bill in that it bars school boards from banning books, curriculum, textbooks, and other materials from use for discriminatory reasons. By the 2025-2026 school year, boards need to have in place policies related to supplemental materials (i.e., library and classroom materials) and how those are reviewed and evaluated were they to be challenged.

These wins matter. Even when the bills initially presented look significantly different by the end, like the one in Colorado, they send an important message. Use these wins to continue fueling your own anti-censorship work and remember, the most important things you can do to fight book bans in 2024 is to vote, show up to board meetings, and get into the ears of those who represent you.

It’s worth noting here that several anti-book ban bills are still on the docket in other states. New Jersey’s Freedom to Read Act moved forward in the legislature just last week, taking it one step closer to passage. Massachusetts, one of the first states to introduce anti-book ban legislation in 2024, pushed its hearings on the measures to June. The concurrent House and Senate proposals are currently in committee.

You can dive into the states that have attempted — successfully or not — to criminalize librarians this year, as well as the states which have made it — or tried to make it — against the law for library workers to join or engage with the American Library Association.

Book Censorship News: June 14, 2024

  • In some of the biggest news for a while, the Llano County Library (TX) patrons who sued the district for book banning have had a partial victory in the 5th Circuit court. The most conservative court in the country said that the library must return eight of the 17 books banned. More news on this will be forthcoming, but if this court says the book banning is unconstitutional, every single library and start partaking in the creation of book banning legislation better feel the chill.
  • Further big news: the Oklahoma State Supreme Court ruled that the state education department cannot tell school libraries what can and cannot be on their shelves. This is a big loss for the far-right push in the state from Ryan Walters and his team, which includes one of the biggest instigators of stochastic terrorism.
  • Several Florida parents have sued the state board of education and the education commissioner over book challenges and their demand to remove “inappropriate” books.
  • Iron River Public Library in Wisconsin — a state where there are actual professional librarians who don’t believe there are issues at all! — is being threatened with shut down over their refusal to *only* relocate a book that the bigots wanted banned. The fight over Let’s Talk About It at Iron River PUBLIC Library has been going on over a year now.
  • “Fort Bend ISD [TX] trustees debated a new book removal policy Wednesday night that lets the superintendent decide when to remove books from schools. Under the proposed procedures, the superintendent could only be overruled by the school board.” What does a superintendent know about books in the library or classroom? The answer is they know politics, not the books.
  • The moral panic over “inappropriate” books in North Dakota cost the Jamestown Public Library over $54,000 in reviewing material. I said in 2021 this was about wasting taxpayer money to destroy public institutions and here’s yet another example of how much has been wasted over nonsense.
  • In news that passes for good, the proposal that would ban every book that depicts “sexual images” failed to pass in Knox County schools (TN).
  • I’m paywalled from this story, but maybe you aren’t. Here are the changes to come at the Boise Public Library (ID) in response to the draconian “parents can sue library workers” over so-called “inappropriate material” law.
  • A Christian group in Alabama is raising funds on a far-right site to fight the Limestone Public Library over “representation” on the board.
  • “[T]he Le Sueur-Henderson School Board [MN] is drafting a policy aiming to give parents the opportunity to restrict their child’s access to certain books. The proposal, still being workshopped in the district’s policy committee, would seek to establish a procedure where parents could grant or deny their children permission to check out books which would remain otherwise accessible in the school library.” I supposed that’s one way to get around your state’s new anti-book ban law — just allow parents to opt their kid out of the library. Psst: parents have always had the right to do these things. It’s news now because of the manufactured panic.
  • Shelby County Library (AL) just saw its board tossed out, as the state has decided that all board members are now appointed rather than elected. Yes, that means the power of libraries in Alabama is very easily skewed in one political direction.
  • Moms For Liberty members in Volusia County Schools (FL) are not thrilled that the district’s new book and media policies don’t give them more power than they already have.
  • In (temporary?) good news, the vote to close several branches of the St. Charles Public Library (MO) will be delayed for months. TL;DR, the board claims the budget is blown because of how many digital materials are being used, but this board also spent months deciding to ban an adult book in the adult section, rather than appropriately budget for the materials being used in the community.
  • Woodstock Public Library (NY) had a bomb threat on Saturday related to a drag story time.
  • Seward Public Library (AK) had a bomb threat due to a drag story hour on Saturday. The show went on.
  • Newberg Public Library (OR) had an incident of targeted, anti-LGBTQ vandalism last week related to a Pride flag in their facility.
  • Indian River County Schools (FL) banned a middle grade book about book bans.
  • Carmel Clay High School (IN) will NOT be banning All Boys Aren’t Blue from the library.
  • Utah will post a list of all the books banned statewide in August.
  • “Impractical perhaps even impossible” is the whole point of the Tennessee book ban law. Williamson County Schools in the state are, shockingly, struggling to balance the law with the First Amendment.
  • 10 books that were banned in Mat-Su Schools (AK) can be returned to shelves now. All of this is manufactured, folks.
  • Franklin County Schools (VA) are reviewing their new book ban — sorry, “book review” — policy in the schools now that it’s been underway for 6 months. Some of the lowlights include that 16 books have been challenged since, and not only have several been banned from the district, but the district created a completely nonsense category of “Young Adult Plus” books that some titles have been moved to.
  • This story is mostly paywalled, of course, but there are folks eager to defend City Councilor Steve Dillard in Seaside, Oregon, who has been fighting for months to ban books at the local public library. They’re defending fascism, to be clear.
  • Rockingham County Schools (VA) just had their board vote to leave the actual professional association for school boards in favor of a made-up conservative “professional association” and also delayed voting on the return of books to the school library. Despite the committee saying the books should be back on shelves, the board “needs more time” — aka, needs more support from BookLooks and similar “review” sites.
  • “Two children’s books are being recommended for exclusion from Carroll County public schools’ [MD] prekindergarten and kindergarten family life curriculum. The school board will act on the recommendation during their Wednesday meeting. The county school system’s Family Life Advisory Committee voted earlier this year to not recommend The Family Book by Todd Parr and The Great Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman for the family life and sexual education curriculum that is mandated by the state, according to the committee’s annual report.” Sorry to the kids who aren’t in “traditional” households of a cis mommy and a cis daddy. Your family isn’t allowed to be taught.
  • Paywalled: more on the dissolution of the Baldwin County Library Cooperative, a vital lifeline for expanded library services through parts of Alabama. Sorry if you can’t read it. That’s the news these days!
  • The very group that created the mess at Autauga Prattville Public Library (AL) — which you can read about here and here and here — is now fundraising to deal with the legal situation they’ve put the library into.
  • In Ohio, public libraries that display books deemed “harmful to children” could lose their funding under a newly proposed bill. Public Libraries. “Harmful to Children.”
  • Interestingly, the challenge of two books in the Lodi Unified School District (CA) didn’t make much news when it happened, but the challenged titles are now emerging after the school board realized they didn’t actually have the authority to ban books (why the confusion when it’s right there in state law is itself a question). That led to a new policy where parents can restrict books from their students.
  • Publishers Weekly going to a paywall model is a punch in the gut for folks who rely on their reputable coverage of book banning. Democracy behind a paywall helps no one, especially those fighting to put an end to this assault on First Amendment rights that are the backbone of the publishing industry. But hey, if you’re not paywalled, sounds like there’s a good piece here about how the Iowa court case is going about their book banning bill SF 496.

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