Want to receive the Alliance for Student Liberty newsletter every other week? Sign up here.

Happy National Library Month! Libraries are a place where any member of society, regardless of race, gender, income level, immigration status, can access endless opportunities for learning. Libraries host family events, book clubs, computer classes, and many more activities. They are a place where a child can feel empowered to learn about any topic without the barriers present in almost every other place in society. We have librarians to thank for nearly every element of keeping libraries functional.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen a huge increase in attacks on both libraries and librarians, particularly related to content that some people might deem inappropriate. We’ve seen an alarming trend from extremists recently – besides ban books, some states have pushed legislation that would threaten librarians with jail time for exposing students to “obscene” materials. Most of the time, the books in question have themes of race/racism or LGBTQ+ characters. States such as Arkansas and Indiana have recently passed bills that allow the criminal prosecution of educators and/or librarians. Other states, such as West Virginia, are currently considering the same type of legislation. The West Virginia bill, HB 4654, removes the protections that currently ensure librarians and educators aren’t subject to criminal prosecution. Under the bill, educators could be fined as much as $25,000 and face up to five years in prison.

The legislation undermines the knowledge that librarians hold about appropriate content for youth. Many librarians have advanced degrees, including the Master of Library Science, which equips them with the widely-recognized skills essential to curating and organizing book collections.  As American Library Association President Emily Drabinski has noted, the idea that far-right groups would know more than librarians about curating book collections is shocking. Librarians are professionals who deserve to be protected from criminal prosecution that results from simply doing their job.

Texas: Suzette Baker was the head librarian of the Kingsland Public Library in Llano County, a rural part of central Texas. She was terminated because of her unwillingness to enforce book bans. Baker fought back against this and filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claim (EEOC) against her employer, Llano County. In March, Baker filed a lawsuit against Llano County, the Llano County Commissioners Court, County Judge Ron Cunningham, and community activists appointed to the Library Advisory Board. She is suing on behalf of wrongful termination, which she argues suppresses minority groups and violates her First Amendment rights. Many other librarians across the nation have also filed claims.

Arkansas: In 2023, Arkansas passed Act 372, which calls for the criminalization of librarians and other booksellers for distributing or selling books that are deemed to be “harmful to minors,” many of which have themes of LGBTQ experiences. In June 2023, eighteen plaintiffs, composed of librarians and booksellers, filed a lawsuit arguing that Act 372 would limit access to constitutionally protected materials and violate constitutionally protected free speech. In July 2023, U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks temporarily blocked Act 372 just before it was scheduled to go into effect. Brooks will decide whether the law should be permanently blocked in October of this year.

The American Library Association (ALA) has created a Banned and Challenged Books Press Kit. This useful resource compiles data on book challenges and bans in libraries across the nation. The ALA continues to argue that challenging and banning books in public libraries attacks Americans’ freedom to read and First Amendment constitutional rights. 

Unite Against Book Bans is a national initiative striving to stand against book bans nationwide and empower readers. They have multiple resources that cater to librarians and readers of all types. Their Book Résumés are designed to demonstrate the educational and cultural significance of books to help librarians, educators, parents, and community members defend books at risk of being banned. For individuals who want to defend banned books publicly, Unite Against Book Bans also has a guide to attending school and library board meetings to challenge book bans and protect the right to read.