‘We’ve Stepped Back’: Librarians Face Unprecedented Attacks Amid Right-Wing Book Ban | libraries

IIf there’s one thing Jason Cole has learned in the 23 years since earning his degree in library science, it’s that the fact that you’re a librarian hardly aligns with fairytale fairy tales. “You tell people you are a librarian and they think you spend your days reading and recommending books,” he said. Most of his time he ran the county library of St. Charles City in Missouri Instead it is spent paying attention to managerial duties and big picture strategy. His library hosts quilting classes, mental health seminars, and events where patrons can read aloud to the dog.

This summer, Cole and a group of colleagues plan to launch a mobile library — a library on a bus that visits various locations around town, including three schools. But when a law makes it a crime for anyone to make visually explicit material available at school entered into force In late August, they decided to keep the mobile library away from schools.

“This is a completely new and untested law,” Kahl said, shaking. “Not worth it.”

Copy of Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdale at St. Charles County Library in Missouri.
Copy of Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdale at St. Charles County Library in Missouri. Photograph: Joe Martinez/The Guardian

The law began as an amendment to Senate Act 775, a measure to combat child trafficking and sexual exploitation. The bill’s use to target books was the innovation of state Republican Senator Rick Brattain, an opponent of gay rights and welfare recipients who use government aid to buy cookies. When Brattain’s team was asked to provide examples of sexually explicit material, it was called All Boys Arn’t Blue, George M. Johnson’s critically acclaimed description of growing up as a gay black man in Virginia and New Jersey, and Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, a sketch Alison Bechdale memoirs of her father’s homosexuality. Violators of the vaguely worded new law face up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000 (£1,754).

“We’re not sure what someone might interpret as being overtly sexual,” Cole said. “To be honest, it feels like we are going back in time. We are in a culture of fear.”

governor Parent groups that was formed to resist masks during the pandemic, just to focus on combating”cash race theoryThe focus is now on sifting through books, often by and about gay and black people, and lobbying for them to be removed from library shelves. Politicians have jumped the bandwagon, drafting legislation supposed to protect children from indoctrination and predation, calling out books by name and making it impossible for the people who run schools and libraries to do their jobs. Significant activists and government officials are taking to social media, holding meetings, and rising on their bases with reports of indoctrination, propaganda, and pornography supposedly lurking on the bookshelves of public institutions.

For many librarians, the pressure has become unbearable. Increasing numbers are complaining of sleepless nights, leaving their jobs, and converting their social media accounts to private accounts in order to protect themselves from the deluge of harassment and humiliation methods. More than two-thirds of respondents in 2022 Urban Library Trauma Study They said they experienced violent or aggressive behavior from their library patrons.

Jason Kuhl stands in front of a computer at the St. Charles City, Missouri County Library.
Jason Kuhl at St. Charles City, Missouri County Library. Photograph: Joe Martinez/The Guardian

In October 2021, Texas State Representative Matt Krause released a list of about 850 books that he said “may make students feel discomfort, guilt, distress, or any other form of psychological distress because of race or gender,” and asked schools around the state to confirm whether they They may store any of the addresses in their libraries. His list included John Irving’s The Cider House Rules, which features a doctor who performs abortions, as well as Amnesty International’s book We Are All Born Free: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures.

In July, Oklahoma’s Secretary of Education Ryan Walters tweeted screenshots of the Gender Queer and Flamer, two autobiographical graphic novels about his LGBTQ+ upbringing that he had found in the catalog of the Memorial High School Library. “It’s disgusting” Wrote.

In August, South Carolina Senator Josh Kimberell called a press conference across the street from a public library to demand that many books be taken out of the collection or face defunding. Standing next to the leader of the Palmetto Family Council, a government division of the anti-gay and transgender family focus group, Kimbrel declared: “I’m not trying to ban any books. I’m trying to stop the indoctrination campaign against children.”

The American Library Association documented 729 attempts to censor library materials in 2021, targeting 1,597 titles. While these numbers were more than double the usual number in previous years, the group was counted 681 challenges for 1651 titles in just the first eight months of 2022, putting the US on track for an “unprecedented” year of censorship.

Since last fall, Tasslyn Magnusson has tried to track individual cases of book challenges through a spreadsheet. The detailed document of the aspiring young writer contains multiple tabs that open like the Sea Scrolls. The works of authors Jesmyn Ward and John Updike appear in its columns, as does Michelle Obama’s biography for young readers, and a book called Among Shades of Grey, a mid-range historical novel that Magnuson imagines some people confuse with the fiftieth E.L. James. Grayscale.

It was initially passed privately among librarians, the document He now lives on EveryLibrary, a political action committee for libraries. “Information gets to me faster and faster,” Magnuson said.

The reason why book challenges are spreading across the country is partly because the outcry of the anti-book activists has become easier than ever. Moms for Liberty, one of the conservative parent groups that sprang up during the pandemic to fight mask mandates, maintains a website with a step-by-step guide to difficult books, called Your Child Advocacy Guide.

Conservative parents' groups began checking and removing books, often by black and gay people.
Conservative parents’ groups began checking and removing books, often by black and gay people. Photo: Mary Inhya Kang/The Guardian

Moms for Liberty member Emily Maikisch also started BookLooks.org, where parents can find reviews of supposedly offensive material that can be copied and pasted into school administrators’ emails. The homepage features an illustration of a rosy-cheeked teenage girl fluttering in a calm-like state as she reads a book. Titles that have received mini-reviews include Slaughterhouse-Five (“This book contains explicit violence including cruelty to animals; non-explicit sexual activities including cruelty). [sic]; sexual nudity; and inflamed [sic] religious comment”) and Lolita (“contains sexual activities that include pedophilia, sexual nudity, and mild profanity”).

Materials like this enable conservative activists to present multiple challenges to multiple institutions, sometimes across state lines. “Their infrastructure has grown exponentially,” Peter Bromberg, associate director of EveryLibrary, said of the group of conservative organizations behind the movement. “All it takes is three parents who reach out on Facebook and say, ‘We’re going to a library meeting and make a list of 325 books that need to be checked out right away. “

Conservative parenting groups like Moms for Liberty, No Left Turn in Education, and Parents Defending Education aren’t the only ones invested in the fight against Black and LGBTQ+ authors’ books. Far-right groups have also taken up the cause. The proud boys used to break into the events of the Drag Queen Story Hour, for example, which caused great fear for patrons and librarians.

“There’s all this pent-up anger, and it’s getting terrifying,” said Natalie Brant, a reference librarian at the State Library in Salem, Oregon. Brant has seen an influx of visits from Sovereign Citizens, an anti-government movement rooted in conspiracy theories. Members often request huge piles of material on the history of the laws they are looking to challenge. “They come in with requests that can help them file lawsuits or take everyone’s time and energy and create chaos,” Brant said. “My anxiety is growing but I feel bad for my colleagues. We recently had active shooting practice.”

“The stress level is at its peak,” said Jesse O’Don, a youth services librarian in Seattle. “There is a rise in librarians’ discourse as villains. Conservatives portray the profession as people who go out to promote critical race theory or the evils of transformation.”

Udon says his congregation has already been under duress from working on the front lines during the pandemic, putting their safety at risk and facing an increase in the number of patrons needing help with drug abuse and mental health problems. “There’s a social work component folded into the job that we haven’t formally trained in,” O’Dunne said.

They were not trained to stand up to the wave of anti-book activists. “In school of library science, I learned intellectual freedom and the politics of writers and the politics of choice, but they are all based on theory,” said Conrado Saldivar, president of the Library Association of Wyoming. “These classes don’t teach us how to deal with the emotional impact of being in a public meeting that is being taped, or how to deal with what’s going on [when] Someone will walk in with a list in their hands and go look up addresses and take pictures of supposedly offensive or harmful material.”

Carolyn Foot, a retired school librarian, teamed up with three other people to found FReadom Fighters, a type of support group for librarians in distress.
Carolyn Foot, a retired school librarian, teamed up with three other people to found FReadom Fighters, a type of support group for librarians in distress. Photo: Mary Inhya Kang/The Guardian

Some librarians resist. Louisiana librarian Christopher Achey and colleagues recently issued a policy prohibiting anyone in the library from being photographed without their permission. “There is a very real possibility that things will get worse before they get better,” he said, referring to the conflict-promoting tactics of a local activist group for New Louisiana. “But I have no plans to start looking for work elsewhere.” Carrie D. Hartmann, executive director of the Laramie County Library System in Cheyenne, Wyoming, is asking people willing to challenge a book to request the form in person or by email. “The online form can be an invitation to chaos,” she said.

When Texas school librarian Caroline Foote retired due to her state’s lax Covid-19 protocols in March 2021, she predicted she would spend her time traveling with her husband. But it was hard to ignore the increase in writers’ challenges across the state. “School districts were pulling books off the shelves by the hundreds,” Foote said. “In my 29 years as a librarian, I’ve only seen three challenging books.”

Foote teamed up with three other people to found FReadom Fighters, a kind of support group for librarians in distress. “The challenges of the book are very isolating,” Foote said. “Most librarians are the only librarians in the building. It puts you in the spotlight and you don’t feel like you can talk publicly about what’s going on.” groups Twitter account, which has 12,000 followers, shares links to news stories about attacks on libraries and librarians as well as resources such as advice on dealing with controversial board meetings. The tweets with the most likes, though, are the spirit-boosted FReadom Fighters affirmations: “As our teacher and library friends head into Monday, we’re sending you our support! ❤️ ❤️.”

“Librarians feel a lot of fear, sadness and stress,” Foote said. “We don’t want people to feel ashamed.”

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