Last Monday, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill to ban book banning into law. This comes off the heels of Floridas Governor Ron DeSantis singing his bill attempting to censor and ban books as part of his “anti-woke and “anti-LGBTQ+” agenda.
As of January 1st, 2024, Illinois public libraries will be ineligible for public funding if they restrict or ban books due to prejudice. The Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias, the state librarian, explains that this law doesn’t mean every single book should be in a library. It simply allows librarians and those in education to continue to do their jobs and make appropriate decisions on the books available in public libraries.
Illinois public libraries must comply with the American Library Associations Library (ALA) Bill of Rights to be eligible for state funding. This document asserts the rights of library users to access information and the responsibility of libraries to provide materials that reflect diverse perspectives.
Downers Grove Democrat Rep. Anne Stava-Murray said during the bill signing, “While it’s true that kids need guidance, and that some ideas can be objectionable, trying to weaponize local government to force one-size-fits-all standards onto the entire community for reasons of bigotry, or as a substitute for active and involved parenting, is wrong.”
This remarkable achievement marks a significant milestone in our nation’s ongoing battle against discriminatory practices within educational institutions and public entities.
Florida Governor DeSantis’s Book Banning
DeSantis was the trailblazer in mass book banning. Historically, if books were to be banned, they would be done one at a time. The ALA has reported the most significant spike in the history of books being banned in mass numbers. DeSantis accomplished this through three bills. These three bills include:
- HB 1557: The “Parental Rights in Education Act” or the “Don’t Say Gay” Law: The “Don’t Say Gay” law bans instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity. The Parental Rights in Education law claims it is limited to kindergarten through third grade. However, some say this law prohibits this “not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate” education, which leaves all teachers open to lawsuits if they explore the topic in their classrooms of all ages. There is also still a need to be clarified if this law is for classroom libraries or libraries. Thus far, many schools and teachers in Florida have been required to remove them from both.
- HB 7: The “Stop Woke Act”: This act would codify the Florida Department of Education’s prohibiting of teaching critical race theory to students K-12.
- HB 1467 Online Databases For All Books: The requirement stipulates that educational institutions must maintain comprehensive online databases comprising all the books within their collections, ensuring they are easily searchable. Furthermore, these books must undergo evaluation by a qualified librarian or media specialist to confirm their content does not include pornography or any materials considered detrimental to minors.
Book Banning History
There’s a long history of disputes over book banning in schools and public libraries across the United States. These debates often center around the content of certain books that some individuals or groups deem inappropriate or offensive, particularly for children or teenagers. Book-banning incidents often involve works that include sexual content, offensive language, or controversial ideas or those that tackle issues such as race, religion, or LGBTQ+ rights.
It’s also important to note that the ALA opposes book banning based on the principles laid out in the Library Bill of Rights, which states that libraries should provide information presenting all points of view and resist efforts to censor materials. The ALA believes that individuals should be able to choose for themselves and their children what to read and argues that the ability to access a wide range of ideas is essential to a democratic society.
Moreover, any law that allows or promotes book banning can conflict with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects freedom of speech and freedom of the press. According to legal precedent, these protections extend to the right to read and access information.
First Amendment and Censorship
The ALA strongly advocates for the First Amendment, a part of the U.S. Constitution that protects freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to assemble peaceably. The First Amendment is crucial for libraries because it guarantees the right to access and share information, a cornerstone of library services.
The ALA opposes any form of censorship. It believes everyone has the right to seek and receive information from all points of view, even those they might find controversial or offensive. The ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom was specifically established to promote and protect these principles. As part of this commitment, the ALA has developed several key documents and resources, including:
- The Library Bill of Rights: This document asserts the rights of library users to access information and the responsibility of libraries to provide materials that reflect diverse perspectives.
- The Freedom to Read Statement: This declaration affirms the freedom of individuals to express ideas and read the ideas of others without governmental interference.
- Banned Books Week: This annual event highlights the value of free and open access to information. It highlights the harms of censorship by highlighting attempts to remove or restrict access to books.
- Intellectual Freedom Manual: This comprehensive resource outlines policies and guidelines to uphold the freedom of speech and fight censorship.
Through these initiatives and resources, the ALA educates librarians and the general public about their rights and the importance of intellectual freedom. It provides tools and support for libraries facing attempts at censorship, and it advocates at the national level for laws and policies that respect and protect the First Amendment rights of all users.
Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights
The ALA Library Bill of Rights is a statement that outlines the basic principles and policies that guide libraries in providing equitable access to information and resources. The Library Bill of Rights interpretations expands these principles, providing further guidance and insights into how these principles should be applied in various situations.
These interpretations provide librarians and library staff with a clear framework to address complex issues that may arise in their work, such as censorship, privacy concerns, and access to resources. They allow library professionals to make informed decisions that uphold intellectual freedom and equitable service. There are numerous interpretations of the Library Bill of Rights that cover various topics and policies:
- Access to Digital Information, Services, and Networks: This interpretation emphasizes the right of all users to access digital information, including the Internet, in line with the broader commitment to intellectual freedom.
- Access to Library Resources and Services Regardless of Sex, Gender Identity, Gender Expression, or Sexual Orientation: This affirms that libraries should provide equitable service to all users, regardless of their sex, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.
- Access to Resources and Services in the School Library Media Program: This focuses on the role of school libraries in providing students with access to a wide variety of information and materials to support their education.
- Challenged Resources: This interpretation guides attempts to remove or restrict materials or resources based on personal or ideological objections.
- Confidentiality of Library Records: This emphasizes the importance of protecting user privacy and confidentiality in all library records.
- Diversity in Collection Development: This interpretation highlights the need for libraries to ensure their collections represent a wide array of perspectives and experiences, including those of marginalized or underrepresented groups.
- Economic Barriers to Information Access: This policy outlines the need to remove or minimize fees and other economic barriers that may prevent users from accessing library resources and services.
- Education and Information Literacy: This interpretation describes the library’s role in promoting information literacy and lifelong learning.
- Equity, Diversity, Inclusion: This interpretation expands on the commitment to ensuring access and representation for all, especially underrepresented or marginalized communities.
- Expurgation of Library Resources: This interpretation opposes any alteration, censorship, or removal of library materials for ideological or personal reasons.
- Intellectual Freedom Principles for Academic Libraries: This interpretation specifically addresses intellectual freedom in the context of academic libraries, which have unique responsibilities related to research, scholarship, and academic freedom.
- Labeling and Rating Systems: This policy cautions against the use of labeling and rating systems that could be used to censor or restrict access to materials.
- Library-Initiated Programs and Displays as a Resource: This interpretation clarifies that library programs and displays should also adhere to intellectual freedom and diversity principles.
- Meeting Rooms: This interpretation discusses equitable access to library meeting rooms by community groups, regardless of their beliefs or affiliations.
- Minors and Internet Interactivity: This interpretation focuses on the balance between protecting minors from harmful online content and ensuring their access to information.
- Prisoners’ Right to Read: This interpretation reaffirms the right of all people, including prisoners, to free and equitable access to information.
- Privacy: This interpretation reinforces the library’s role in protecting users’ privacy as part of its commitment to intellectual freedom.
- Services to People with Disabilities: This interpretation emphasizes the right of people with disabilities to use library resources and services equally with other users.
- The Universal Right to Free Expression: This interpretation stresses the library’s responsibility to uphold the universal right to free and open expression within the confines of the law.
- User-Generated Content in Library Discovery Systems: This interpretation deals with how user-created content (reviews, comments, tags, etc.) is handled in library discovery systems. Libraries are expected to protect user privacy and freedom of speech while providing guidance and oversight.
These interpretations are not legally binding but provide a strong ethical framework for libraries. They help guide library policies and procedures to ensure that all users have equitable access to information, that intellectual freedom is upheld, and that privacy is respected. They are essential tools for addressing challenges and dilemmas that libraries may face in their service to the community.
Each interpretation is designed to help libraries uphold the fundamental principles outlined in the Library Bill of Rights. They provide practical guidance and deepen the understanding of how these principles should be applied in various situations. As library services evolve with changes in technology and society, these interpretations can be revised and updated to reflect new challenges and contexts.
Book Banning in 2023 is B.S.
Book banning represents a significant and worrisome affront to our freedoms and values. It is more than just the suppression of an author’s voice or an obstacle to exchanging ideas. It is a fundamental challenge to the principles of free speech and expression enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
This practice is a form of censorship that cuts to the heart of democracy. By denying access to certain texts, we inherently declare that some voices, some perspectives, are less worthy, less valid, and less welcome than others. This is not just a disservice to those authors and those perspectives but also to the readers who are denied the opportunity to learn from, engage with, and challenge these ideas. Such acts dull intellectual curiosity, limit the horizon of knowledge and diminish the critical thinking skills that our society so desperately needs.
Book banning is an inherently discriminatory act. It disproportionately affects marginalized voices and controversial perspectives, effectively silencing the people and topics our society needs to engage with. It sends a disheartening message that some stories, experiences, and truths are less acceptable than others, fostering an environment of exclusion, prejudice, and ignorance.
To champion book banning is to endorse a narrow and uniform perspective of the world, which does not reflect the rich diversity and complexity of the human experience. It is to champion ignorance over knowledge, intolerance over understanding, and stagnation over progress.
As a society, we must resist the allure of easy answers and convenient truths. We must embrace the messy, the controversial, and the challenging. We must cherish our right to read, learn, discuss, and disagree. We must stand up for the First Amendment and everything it represents. In the face of book banning, we must say, with conviction and without hesitation, that we value the free exchange of ideas, that we believe in the power of words, and that we are committed to a future where every voice can be heard, every story can be told, and every perspective can be appreciated.