April 2023 Church & State Magazine - April 2023

Wave Of Book Banning Means Empty School Library Shelves


A spate of new laws in the states that restrict material that can be placed in public school libraries is leading to empty bookshelves, The Washington Post reported recently.

Several states have passed laws restricting certain types of material in school libraries or setting up elaborate processes that give parents the power to review — and thus veto — titles. The result is fewer books on the shelves.

a dark image of empty bookshelves

Empty shelves: Censorship makes Fla. school libraries go bare (Getty Images)

An example is Florida, where a new law requires that books in school libraries be “suited to student needs,” and that mandates that school librarians undergo special training relating to “the selection and maintenance of library collections.” 

Some public education officials in the state are uncertain how to apply the vague law and, worried about violating it, are erring on the side of caution by covering up school libraries or removing them entirely. (Violations of the law are considered a felony.) 

In Clay County, public school officials were uncertain how to interpret the new law and put a hold on ordering new books. Julie Miller, a librarian for the district, told The Post she would normally have ordered 30 new titles by this time of the year. She has ordered zero, and she plans to use the money allocated for books on new furniture for the library.

Similar stories abound in other states. As The Post reported, “In one Texas school district, school librarians have ordered 6,000 fewer books this year than the year before because under a new rule, parents must have 30 days to review the titles before the school board votes to approve them. In Pennsylvania, a school librarian who must now obtain her principal’s okay for acquisitions has bought just 100 books this school year, compared with her typical 600.”

The new laws are part of a nationwide effort by Christian Nationalist groups to censor books they find offensive. Most of the targeted titles deal with LGBTQ or racial issues. But fantasy novels and even history books are sometimes attacked by Christian Nationalists. Several librarians told The Post that students are clamoring for new titles, but that their hands are tied. 

In Florida, teachers and librarians who run afoul of the new law could be charged with a third-degree felony, which is punishable by a five-year prison sentence and a $5,000 fine.  

Similar problems are playing out at the Central Bucks School District in suburban Philadelphia. The district’s board recently passed a policy prohibiting books with “sexualized” content. The policy was drafted by the Independence Law Center, a project of the Family Research Council, a large Christian Nationalist group based in Washington, D.C.

Critics say the policy is designed to purge the schools of materials that relate to LGBTQ issues.

Andrew Seidel, Americans United’s vice president for strategic communications, told WHYY radio that the policy targets LGBTQ people.

“It is going to be imposing this anti-LGBTQ, Christian Nationalist ideology on public school children, and that is a huge problem,” Seidel said.

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