Challenging Librarians and Banning Ideas

The right has shifted its strategies. Rather than take on the tedious task of challenging individual books, the attempt now is to hold responsible librarians and libraries with the intention of removing, relocating and restricting access to books. Let’s consider what’s happening across the nation and in a few states in particular.

I’ve heard a lot about little Facebook groups where soccer moms plot, plan and share language and documents useful in removing books that they think will bring harm to their children. Considering the selection of books that have appeared on their lists, it’s safe to generalize that the books challenged are predominately by and/or about Blacks and LGBTQIA+ people.

Actually, those behind what we’ve called ‘challenges’ or ‘bans’ are more likely to be nationally backed right leaning Political Action Committees (PAC) with adequate funding to outdo most local groups. While most attention is being paid to what’s happening in school libraries, these same groups are also re-aligning school curriculum to fit their agendas. Here in Indiana, this includes legislating the implementation of the Science of Reading. I will tell you that I really wish I could write this without a bias, that I could provide good, solid information on the concepts that are being presented and challenged here. I say ‘concepts’ because there are agendas behind all of these legislative actions, none of this is random. There’s a very strategic plan here, and I’ve only looked at this plan from one perspective. Please, as you’re reading this be aware of how you are being positioned. List the information that is being omitted. Decide what you’ve learned here and what you still need to know. While you may think you have nothing in the game here because your state isn’t highlighted in my writing, because you’r not Black or queer, know that none of is is free until all of us is free. Take the time, do the work to find out what young people in your hometown are being taught. How much control do politicians have over their curriculum? Children are our current and future citizenry: they take action, they’ll vote, network, care for elders, design businesses, and they care for the environment. Children matter to all of us. They are my social security.

Politicians will tell you that they want to re-align with Science of Reading, and there are parts of that pedagogy that I don’t know why we ever lost, but politicians rather than educators are making these choices. Educators know one size doesn’t fit all. Politicians know the link to Science of Reading at its essence is opposed to Freire’s teaching of reading the world.

Reading is not exhausted merely by decoding the written word or written language, but rather anticipated by and extending into knowledge of the world. Reading the world precedes reading the word, and the subsequent reading of the word cannot dispense with continually reading the world. Language and reality are dynamically intertwined. The understanding attained by critical reading of a text implies perceiving the relationship between text and context.

The Importance of the Act of Reading, Paulo Freire

Freire’s work is fundamental to critical theory. This movement is political.

IN is also wrestling with a bill, like many other states in the nation, that will address the inclusion of race and sex discrimination in public schools. “This bill prohibits public schools from promoting certain concepts related to an individual’s age, sex, gender identity, race, religion, color, national origin, etc. as part of educational curriculum. It also prohibits teachers from using supplemental materials to promote these concepts.” source

Why are schools venturing into this territory? Better: why are politicians using schools as pawns in this way?

Indiana is proposing Senate Bill 12. The IN General Assembly’s website provides the following summary.

“Material harmful to minors. Establishes a procedure: (1) to allow a parent or legal guardian of a child enrolled in a school to file a complaint that a book in the school library is inappropriate; and (2) for the school to respond to the complaint. Set up a complaints procedure. Determines that a school library may not provide a book that contains obscene content or content that is harmful to children. Removes schools from list of entities eligible for specific defenses from criminal prosecution for: (1) disseminating material harmful to minors; or (2) a performance harmful to minors. Adds colleges and universities to the list of entities eligible for specific defenses in criminal prosecutions for: (1) dissemination of material harmful to minors; or (2) a performance harmful to minors.”

Senate Bill 12 – Material Harmful to Minors – Indiana General Assembly, Session 2023

Any library with a certified school librarian (school libraries in IN don’t have to have a certified school librarian/media specialist) has a plan for a challenge that is approved by the building principal. I was a school librarian, and I knew that adding books to my library was not the same as adding books to the public library. I had a principal, parents, and a school board to answer to.

Any chance the next strategy will be to make parents responsible for what their children read?

The biggest criticism I’ve seen of the IN bill is that it’s too general. It doesn’t clarify what is meant by harmful. I would find Curious George, Grumpy Monkey, Little House on the Prairie, and The Secret Garden of harmand while I wish these books didn’t exist, the fact is that they do. I would rather see parents, teachers, and librarians engaging young people with these texts by asking them what race, class, and gender-based stereotypes and biases they see in these books. How is the author positioning readers in these books? What beliefs, implicit and explicit, are being expressed? But, that would result in a population that thinks.

Could we include books that are physically too heavy for a child to carry as harmful? Heavy backpacks after all, do cause injuries to children. Perhaps books with words a child can’t understand would be harmful as well any book they’d be forced to read in class. How does this impact electronic materials provided by state funded databases? Broad indeed! Also, I’m not sure exactly who will be held responsible under this plan. Would it be the librarians who select the books, the librarians who acquire them, or the ones who process and catalog them into the children’s or young adult areas? Or would it be the head of the department or library, or the assistant who checks the book out? What if the books are preselected, cataloged, and made shelf ready by a vendor, and then shipped to the library?

“Passing Senate Bill 12 would mean school librarians, teachers and other staff could face jail time. Employees could be charged with a level six felony, carrying a maximum sentence of two and a half years in prison and a $10,000 fine.” Source

The bill has passed the state senate 37-12 and is now in the House of Representatives.

Can I interject here that IN is facing a teacher shortage. Who would want to teach in a state that doesn’t support you or your work?

Just to the west of IN, the Illinois Secretary of State has drafted some of the first legislation in the US meant to support public and school librarians.

Illinois libraries would only be eligible for state funded grants, which are issued by the Secretary of State’s office, if they: 1) demonstrate that they adhere to the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights indicating reading materials should not be removed or restricted because of partisan or personal disapproval; or 2) issue a statement complying with the policies of the State Library or one prohibiting the practice of banning books or resources. (source)

Book Riot and gathered a few more instances of book banning legislation.

There are several, well financed groups that enact legislation to censor and remove books. What perplexes me more than finding the real reasons behind these bills is that these groups don’t provide any mediation. They don’t say, ‘read this, not that’. They consider their perspective to be the one true perspective, and they legislate for the good of all in that way. I’ve no doubt this is a pushback to the growth in the call for diverse books, DEI agendas, and the browning of America. I’ve no doubt this is based in centuries of fear of Black people.

I find it interesting that while we’re so proud of the many freedoms that abound in the US, we’re about the only country that bans books. What is it about the freedom to read, about literacy, that we struggle with?

Is it that expressing ways of being that do not conform with white, cishet, middle class, abled-bodied ways of being are such a threat to our democracy that they must be banned?

Would there be greater outrage if the books being banned didn’t focus on Blacks and on LGBTQIA+ people?

Why is It so easy to ban books, but not guns?

4 thoughts on “Challenging Librarians and Banning Ideas

  1. It’s frightening and disgusting. No doubt they’ll soon be sponsoring scholarships to any far right student who wants to become a teacher. It is VITALLY IMPORTANT to know what the candidates running for your school board stand for, and vote against any who want to control what schools have in their libraries and classrooms.


  2. Edi- I respect your work tremendously (and actually came on later to the Literary Safari Wonders bibliography work also). I have recently learned more about the science of reading and disagree with you on it. The parts with legislature do make things murky and I’m not looking to comment on that part, but ultimately we need to teach our children HOW to read before they can learn from and love books. If you haven’t watched Kareem Weaver’s “A Right to Read” documentary that just came out please take a look. He’s an NAACP activist from Oakland. He shares on twitter also. I first learned of all of this from the American Public Media’s 6 episode podcast called Sold a Story: How Teaching Kids to Read Went So Wrong. I can’t recommend it enough. It also gets into the political divisions that have been a part of reading instruction. Last, this article, “Inside the Massive Effort to Change How Kids are Taught to Read” from Time magazine is also excellent.


  3. Edi- I respect your work tremendously (and came on late to the Literary Safari Wonders bibliography work also). I disagree with you on the science of reading. Science of reading legislature happening at the same time as other awful school legislature makes things murky. But in regards to the science of reading, I am a new proponent. It boils down to the explicit and systematic teaching of phonics. We have to teach our children HOW to read before they can learn from and love books.

    If you haven’t seen anything by NAACP activist Kareem Weaver please look him up. He is from Oakland, CA and has a new documentary called “The Right to Read”. He’s active on twitter also. I also learned so much from the incredibly compelling 6 episode podcast, “Sold a Story: How Teaching Kids to Read Went So Wrong” from American Public Media. I can’t recommend it enough. It explains the different ways reading has been taught in schools (and how political divisions have been a part of this for years). Last, Time magazine has an excellent article called “Inside the Massive Effort to Change How Kids are Taught to Read”.

    And here’s what I wrote on my blog with links to all of these and more


    1. Hi Susan,

      I’ve seen both of the posts you’ve left on my blog as well as the two emails you’ve sent me. I appreciate your passion on this topic, I hope the schools where you live are able to make choices that are good for all of their students.

      Liked by 1 person

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