As Connecticut legislators race toward the checkered flag of June 7, they might consider taking a page from Illinois legislators long enough to ban book bans.
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker has said he will sign a bill that would withhold state funds from school or public libraries when employees remove books from their shelves at the request of patrons.
The Illinois bill says that, in order to continue to be considered for state grants (which last fiscal year amounted to about $62 million), public and school libraries should adopt the American Library Association’s Bill of Rights, which includes language that requires libraries to “provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues.” Neither “partisan or doctrinal disapproval” should have a bearing on what is offered for public consumption, says the document.
Though it is 2023 and we should all know better, requests to ban books are at an all-time high. According to the American Library Association, there were 67 attempts to ban books in Illinois last year. In 2021, there were 41, according to the Illinois secretary of state. Nationwide, the ALA counted 1,269 demands to censor library books and resources in 2022, up from 729 reported the year before.
Most challenges — 90% — came from groups such as Moms for Liberty, an astroturf organization that under the guise of “parental rights” seeks to erase entire communities from the library shelves. The Facebook page for Hartford County boasts just over 200 members and added three misguided members since Tuesday. Florida is lousy with them.
Douglas C. Lord, president of the Connecticut Library Association, says there are currently about 35 active challenges to library resources in the state — about double that of the year before. If any books have been banned, the news hasn’t hit the papers yet. (A challenged book means someone has expressed interest in removing or restricting access to that book; a banned book means the challenge was successful and the book has been removed.) In general, challenges these days come over concerns about LGBTQI themes, because everyone knows that if you read about a gay penguin, you become one.
That last sentence was satirical and I’m sad I have to add that. The pen is mightier than the sword, and Moms for Liberty types clutch their pearls, I suppose, over having a book available that presents a life outside their particular pews. Keep ’em dull, sisters.
In April, the ALA published a list of 2022’s most-challenged books, most of which carried LGBTQI themes, all of which were called “sexually explicit” by the people who challenged them. But here’s where I get confused. I suspect you could ask just about any of these challengers what they think about Big Government, and they’d answer “the smaller the better.” Yet here they are, asking the government to step in when good parenting — oh, I don’t know, maybe reading the books their children are reading and then discussing those themes? — would accomplish more. But no. Keep ’em dull, and up the nannystate, eh, Moms?
In December, the Ferguson library board of trustees in Stamford declared that town a book sanctuary city, following the lead of Chicago officials who did the same the previous September. In a book sanctuary banned and challenged books are made available, and readers’ freedom to read is supported entirely.
If Connecticut is taking a firm stance to protect books, other states — among them Missouri, Florida, and Iowa — have passed laws that either make it easier to remove books from shelves, or, in the case of Missouri, threaten to jail or fine school librarians who provide students with books deemed inappropriate by — well — that’s a tough sentence to finish. That state’s stance puts policy into the hands of the most extreme and conservative. In fact, one misguided Missouri state representative suggested withholding library funds as a retaliation for the Missouri Library Association, Missouri Association of School Librarians, and the ACLU filing suit over — you guessed it — that state’s book bans. The $4.5 million was eventually restored but my God, my home state looked ignorant to the extreme.
So go get ’em, Connecticut legislators. We won’t be leading the way in this, but we will be making an important stand.