While working as a school librarian in Texas, Carolyn Foote watched her profession profile deviate from the stereotype of “shrinking violets behind glasses” classifying headlines as “pedophiles and nuisances.” Mind pollution of the youth of the country.
“The librarians came from a highly regarded climate to hear that A message that we are hated,” said Foote, co-founder of Freadom Fighters, an advocacy group for librarians that has nearly 15,000 followers on Twitter. “It was an amazing turn of events.” She added that many librarians ask themselves if they want to stay in the profession. “At least five people I know have retired early.”
Once a comfortable presence on the story circuit and book fairs, librarians have been condemned, intimidated, and engaged. Battles over censorship School boards and libraries face growing pressure from conservatives seeking to ban books that explore ethnic, gay and transgender themes. These voices grew stronger in the red states since the epidemicWhen parent groups oppose mask mandates, they broaden their vision and become more involved in how and how they educate their children.
Recent polls indicate that most Americans do not support banning books. Concentrated pressure from politically connected parental groups, said Peter Bromberg, a board member of EveryLibrary, a nonprofit library advisory group, “Librarians face a lot of pressure. There are signs on people’s lawns calling librarians pedophiles.” They face pressure from directors and administrators over book offers, and “the neighbors talk about being an arm of the devil”.
Some librarians are fighting back. Others have lost or quit their jobs. The culture wars over books come at a time when about 27% of public libraries have cut staff due to budget cuts and other reasons, According to a 2021 national survey. said Lisa Kananiubua Pelayo-Lozada, president of the American Library Assn. , the librarians’ problems are exacerbated by attacks that are part of an effort that “seeks to abolish diverse ideas and undermine this country’s freedom of expression. I see it as a dismantling of education.”
A number of school board meetings in recent years have become explosive and symbolic of the country’s political animosities. Dads yell, boo, shake their fists and upload sexual images in the drama being played out on social media. Similar scenes erupted in public libraries, including at Patmos Library In western Michigan, where at least two librarians have resigned amid pressure and harassment from residents calling for the removal of LGBTQ books and graphic novels for young adults.
At the library’s December board meeting, librarian Jan Richer denounced critics a week after closing the building early due to staff safety concerns. She said that signs around town called her a pedophile and that she had received abusive phone calls and iPhones pointed at her. Her emotional response came a month after a Conservative-led campaign succeeded in defunding the library, forcing it to rely on donations.
We have been threatened. Richer said. “How dare you people. You don’t know me. You don’t know anything about me. You said I fucked your kids. I take care of your kids.”
She raised her hands. Her anger is intense.
“I have six grandchildren out there,” she said, referring to the crimes she was targeting. “I moved to this town two and a half years ago, and I regret it every single day for the past year. This was horrible,” she says. “I wasn’t raised that way. I believe in God. I’m Catholic. I’m Christian. I’m everything you are.”
School boards and libraries face demands from conservative lawmakers and parental groups, such as Mothers for Liberty and Mama Bears Rising, and, in a few cases, the alt-right group the Proud Boys, to clean up libraries for what they consider to be disturbing pornography and gay porn. Many conservatives criticize schools as being steeped in progressive ideas that confuse children about race and gender.
“By exposing our children to adult concepts like gender identity, we are asking them to carry a burden that is too heavy for them,” Moms for Liberty member Kit Hart said in a video released last year from a school board meeting. In Carroll County, Maryland. “A 10-year-old should not be turned into his sexual orientation.”
A video posted to Moms for Liberty shows one of its members laying out her concerns at a public meeting in Mecklenburg, NC: “Parents are warned about terms like social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion. These inherently good things are used to mask a biased political agenda.” Our schools have become indoctrination camps. faith and a breeding ground for hatred and division.”
Florida and other states have imposed stricter limits on the books that schools can stock. A Missouri law passed last year makes it a crime for a school to provide sexually explicit material to a student. Following a discrimination complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating a Texas school after a superintendent directed librarians to remove LGBTQ-related books.
He said, “We are put on the front lines of the culture wars whether we want to be there or not.” amanda jones, A middle school librarian in Livingston Parish, L.A., who broke out in hives and depression last year after being threatened for speaking out against censorship. “It’s no fun being vilified in your little town or in the country as a whole. It’s all about their use of political fear and anger. And they’re using children to do it.”
Jones was scorned by conservative activists, including Citizens for New Louisiana, after she warned at a library meeting that “hatred and fear masquerading as moral outrage have no place in Livingston Parish.” A picture of her with a red circle around her head – resembling a target – appeared online and was called a pig and supportive of teaching anal sex to 11-year-olds. Someone suggested she be slapped.
Martha Hickson, a high school librarian in Annandale, N.J., endured similar pressures and said she lost 12 pounds in one week after a parent accused her at a school board meeting of being a nanny by submitting graphic novels and memoirs, such as “Gay Intersex.” by Maya Copabi and Jonathan Ivison’s “Loneboy,” can point children toward “nefarious deeds.”
“What really struck me was the use of my name in this context,” said Hickson, 63, who in 2020 received an American Assn. Intellectual Freedom Award for School Librarians. It was devastating. I broke down and couldn’t stop crying.” She said she couldn’t catch her breath, and “couldn’t speak in complete sentences. I broke two teeth from grinding and was fitted with a night guard. I go to the pool now and swim three times a week. It washes the stress away.”
Jessica Brasington, the Texas-based president of Mama Bears Rising, which advocates for increased parental control in education, said her intention is not to scold librarians or teachers but to seek stricter guidance from the state on textbook selection in what she sees as a broader war. against her Christian faith.
We want to protect our children. We’ve seen the darker side of what can happen after the book. suicide. Alienation, said Brasington, whose organization lobbied for books to be removed in school districts and warned against indoctrination of children with a “vicious” sexual agenda. We want to know which books are available for our children. …the parents are bypassed.”
Calls to ban certain books in schools have existed for generations among liberal and conservative parents, educators, and activist groups. Classics like “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain and “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou have been pulled from reading lists. Books deemed obscene like “The Catcher in the Rye” and “Tropic of Cancer” have been banned for decades. In the 1980s, well-funded and organized groups such as the moral majority of the Christian Right condemned books on secular humanism.
Those fights are reverberating today and have accelerated as religious conservatives and right-leaning politicians, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, support bills to limit schooling on gender identity and sexual orientation. Of the 1,648 titles that were banned in schools across the country in the 2021-22 school year, according to the PEN America study, 41% had prominent LGBTQ figures or explicitly explored LGBTQ themes.
“It’s hard to compare this to anything other than the red scare of the 1950s,” said Foote, the 29-year-old retired high school librarian who was named a “Champion of Change” by President Obama. “There is nothing else remotely close to this.”
Librarians are “crushed out of the book selection process,” said Taslyn Magnuson, a writer and educator from Wisconsin who has compiled a national database of challenged books in school districts. “We’re shutting kids out of all the things they need to function in a diverse society. They’re trying [keep] Children learn about the world. How will the children grow up to be good Americans and global citizens? I just read somewhere that James Baldwin was banned.”
School librarians have long been accustomed to hearing from angry parents. Some parents request that their children not be allowed to review certain books. Requests to remove a book from circulation usually go through a committee review process. But librarians have recently complained that comprehensive reviews are sometimes skipped or affected by pressure from parent groups.
In some areas this pressure is likely to result in less diverse reading lists as librarians choose not to select certain books. “If librarians are threatened with lawsuits and fines, it could lead to self-censorship,” said Pelayo Lozada, whose association is holding a nationwide conference in New Orleans this weekend that will address book bans.
The Hickson School District in New Jersey faced criticism in 2021 when a group of parents wanted to remove “The Fairer Sex,” “Lawn Boy” and other books from the library. A complaint was filed against Hickson with the police, but the local attorney general did not press charges. In subsequent school board meetings, a group of parents, students and residents urged the board not to delete these titles. The district committee reviewed the books and last year decided to keep them on the shelves.
“But I’m still tarred and feathered,” Hickson said. Amid pressure from her union and support in the community, the school board said accusations of “malicious motives” against Hickson were unfounded. “I look at these kids and my heart breaks,” she said. “These groups that want to ban books have a whole political machinery around them and use books as proxies to attack people in society.” Children have to deal with “bullying, slander and shoving”.
In Louisiana, Jones said, school libraries are often havens for students to explore what they might encounter along racial and LGBT topics.
“A lot of parents supported me but were afraid to speak out because of the harassment,” said Jones, president of the Louisiana Assn. School librarians. Some students question their identity and come to me asking about LGBTQ books. But parents want to keep calm so that the child is not teased. All this turned my life upside down.
Jones is on medical leave until the next semester. Her defamation lawsuit against two men, one of whom belonged to the conservative group Citizens for a New Louisiana, was dismissed. She said she would appeal. Last month, Atty State. Gen. Jeff Landry, who is running for governor, announced an information line for people to “protect” children and report library books that contain “highly graphic sexual content.”
“They’re using librarians again in their politics,” said Jones, who is writing a book about her ordeal and forming a Citizens Against Censorship Coalition in the state’s 64 parishes.