The surge in book bans is gripping American schools and libraries

The surge in book bans is gripping American schools and libraries

The surge in book bans is gripping American schools and libraries

    (The Independent)

(The Independent)

A new wave of book bans is sweeping across the United States, fueled by Republican lawmakers, religious groups, politically motivated school boards, and right-wing activists.

Once thought to be a relic of America’s past, these bans have sought to stifle discussion and learning about race, gender, and sexuality under the auspices of a “parental rights” campaign.

But the measures go hand-in-hand with an unprecedented surge in state and national laws targeting LGBT+ people, especially trans youth, and attempts to limit honest discussions about race and racism in classrooms and workplaces.

Teachers and library employees have been thrust into a volatile political environment, facing harassment online and offline as they navigate new regulatory regimes and policies that could expose them to costly litigation.

The numbers alone tell a shocking story.

There were at least 1,477 attempts to ban 874 individual book titles within the first half of the 2022-2023 school year, according to PEN America. The figures mark a nearly 30 percent spike in book challenges from the previous year.

Last year, a record over 1,200 attempts to remove books from schools and libraries were reported to the American Library Association.

Overwhelmingly, the book ban attempts to target the stories of and about people of color and LGBT+ people, PEN found. At least 30% of affected titles are books about race, racism or characters of color, and more than a quarter of all titles include LGBT+ characters or themes.

PEN described the measures collectively as part of a “concerted campaign” underway across the country “to ban books and educational materials containing ‘objectionable’ content” which often amount to “little more than an acknowledgment of LGBTQ+ identities or the existence of racism or sexism”.

This campaign has not only targeted book titles, but the institutions and professionals who distribute them: libraries, librarians and teachers.

More than 100 bills in state legislatures in at least 31 states this year threaten to slash library budgets, implement book classification systems, regulate the types of books and materials in their collections, and change definitions of obscenity that preempt First Amendment protections, according to a database from EveryLibrary.

Republican officials in the United States have defended such proposals with dubious claims that libraries and classrooms circulate “pornography” and materials aimed at “sexualizing” young children, which are almost always books written by or about LGBT+ people.

That campaign has also entered the Washington DC halls of Congress, where Republicans are proposing national bills that mirror legislation dominating state capitals.

Ron DeSantis, the Republican governor of Florida, has passed sweeping laws to control public school education by banning books, classes and speeches he deems objectionable, while characterizing reports of the impact of such policies as a “hoax” produced by the press.

One such law, passed by DeSantis in March of last year, requires a certified media specialist to evaluate all available books in classrooms and libraries and punish teachers with felony charges if unauthorized books are in the classrooms. This has led to teachers stripping their shelves of books in the classroom for fear of prosecution.

In Tennessee, the Age Appropriate Materials Act requires schools to catalog all titles in their class to prevent them from including inappropriate content.

In Texas, which leads the country in the number of book ban attempts, according to data from PEN America, Llano County officials have proposed shutting down the library system completely, after a judge ordered that books that had been targeted for removal returned to shelves.

A school board in Granbury, Texas has sought to ban more than 130 titles from its libraries, most of them because they contain LGBT+ themes. That effort led to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and a first-of-its-kind civil liberties investigation by the Department of Education.

Chloe Kempf, an attorney with the ACLU in Texas, said The independent that the bans have gone hand-in-hand with additional legislation limiting the rights of LGBT+ people statewide.

“Politicians in Texas, at every level, are essentially trying to outlaw LGBTQ people by censoring books about them, limiting their access to health care, limiting their access to sports, and even expressing ourselves through art and what we wear. . And so I think it’s a very concerning time,” she said.

Last year, voters in Michigan’s Jamestown Township — population 10,000 — rejected renewals for two tax bills that have funded the community’s Patmos Library for decades. Without that funding, the library would have to close in 2024.

The debate has centered largely on one title: Maia Kobabe’s Gender queer.

Right-wing outrage over that book — a memoir about gender dysphoria and life outside a gender binary — and other titles led to the resignation of a library director and plans to disband a library board in Idaho. A Michigan prosecutor has suggested bringing a prosecution against a local librarian who refused to give in to state and right-wing pressure against him.

In April, Republican Missouri state lawmakers threatened to defund all public libraries in the state. The Republican-controlled state House of Representatives voted in March on a state budget proposal that locks the library budget at zero, which would eliminate millions of dollars for the state’s libraries.

The state legislative debate on library funding follows a recently enacted state law broadly prohibiting educators from “providing sexually explicit materials” to students, punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 or one year in prison.

That language has had a chilling effect in schools and libraries across the state, where officials preemptively removed titles for fears right-wing activists would launch lawsuits against them, according to PEN America. Between August and November, state authorities banned more than 300 books in at least 11 school districts, the group found.

In February, the ACLU of Missouri, the Missouri Association of School Librarians and the Missouri Library Association filed a lawsuit against the state, claiming the ban violated the First Amendment.

In a statement defending librarians and libraries against a wave of legislative threats last month, the president of the American Library Association condemned the “vocal minority” who stoke “the flames of the book controversy.”

“Every day, professional librarians sit down with parents to carefully determine what reading material is best suited to their children’s needs,” said ALA President Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada. “Now, many library employees face threats to their employment, their personal safety and, in some cases, threats of prosecution for providing young people with books they and their parents want to read. Our nation cannot afford to lose the library workers who lift up their communities and safeguard our freedom to read the First Amendment.”

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