Massachusetts and the nation wrestle with book bans, challenges, and protests in libraries

According to the American Library Association (ALA) Library staff in every state are facing an unprecedented number of attempts to ban books. ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 729 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services in 2021, resulting in more than 1,597 individual book challenges or removals. Most targeted books were by or about Black or LGBTQIA+ persons. Recently, ALA submitted comments about the impact to the House Oversight Committee.
Massachusetts has also seen a dramatic surge in book challenges and disturbances. Combined formal and informal challenges, objections, disruptions have nearly quadrupled since 2021, going from combined total of 20 in 2021 to 78 in 2022.

Below are issue-related *articles. The most recent are listed first.

Massachusetts based news stories:

Groups urge schools to resist book bans
January 24, 2023
(The Salem News)  BOSTON — Civil liberties groups are urging state and local education officials to push back against “coordinated” efforts to ban books, warning that pulling any controversial titles from libraries could run afoul of anti-discrimination laws.
In a letter to the state’s public school districts, the Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders cited a recent uptick in library book challenges from parents and conservative groups targeting titles related to LGBTQ issues, communities of color, and other marginalized groups.
Read Full Story

White supremacists protest Taunton drag queen story time, police say
January 16, 2023
(ABC, News6) Police said over two dozen members of NSC-131, a white nationalist group, gathered outside the library Saturday to protest the event.
The protesters dressed in black masks and khaki pants waved a painted banner that read, “Drag queens are pedophiles.”
This group is also believed to be responsible for the racist flyers that have been dispersed throughout Rhode Island in the recent months.
Full story

Chelmsford Public Library reinstates ‘pastor story hour’ after church claims rights were violated
January 12, 2023
(Boston Globe) The Chelmsford Public Library has reinstated a pastor’s story hour that was planned for Friday morning but abruptly canceled Thursday afternoon after library officials said the church that organized the event misrepresented its plans.
A lawyer for The Shepherd’s Church had claimed the library bowed to public pressure after it became known that the event was planned in response to drag queen story hours.
Read full story

Neo-Nazis disrupted a drag event in Fall River. Organizers said they won’t be discouraged.
December 15, 2022
(The Herald News) FALL RIVER — A group of organized neo-Nazis disrupted a children’s event featuring a drag artist in Fall River this past weekend, with organizers vowing to not be discouraged from putting on future events.
“It was the most unsettling thing I’ve seen with my own eyes in a really long time,” said Sean Connell, President of the Fall River Pride Committee. “I think it’s so imperative to stay out here in the face of hate like this.”
Read full story

Christmas tree dispute at library has pitted ‘neighbor against neighbor,’ Dedham officials say
December 9, 2022(Boston Globe) “Unfortunately, a recent social media post expressing disagreement with the decision to display a holiday tree at the library has quickly evolved into a polarized environment and has led to the harassment and bullying of town employees,” the town said in a statement Thursday. “We wholeheartedly condemn this behavior as it tears at the fabric of our community and cannot be tolerated.”
Read full story

Book challenges on rise in Mass. amid culture wars
November 27, 2022
(Eagle Tribune)Massachusetts librarians are fielding a dramatic uptick in the number of book “challenges” from parents and outside groups who are upset about what they view as inappropriate content on sexuality and racism for younger readers.
A recent survey conducted by the Massachusetts Library Association found that informal challenges, disruptions and objections “quadrupled” between 2021 and 2022.
More than 100 libraries that responded to the group’s annual survey reported at least 78 book challenges so far this year — up from only 20 last year.
Read full story

National news stories:

America’s culture warriors are going after librarians
December 21, 2022
(.coda) It’s a tale playing out in cities and states across the country, as a book-banning fever courses through the country’s body politic. Nationally, attempts to remove books from school and public libraries are shattering previous records. The effort is being driven by a loose collection of local and national conservative parents’ groups and politicians who have found a rewarding culture war battle in children’s books about gender, diversity and sexuality. The majority of these groups were created during the pandemic as part of a broader “parents’ rights” movement that formed in opposition to Covid-related masking and remote learning policies in schools and that has since widened its focus to include challenging library and classroom books about race and LGBTQ issues.
Read full article

Kirk Cameron declares a ‘win’ over two public libraries that denied him story hours but now have ‘caved’
December 19, 2022
In comments to Fox News Digital over the weekend, actor and writer Kirk Cameron declared that he has “won” against two public libraries in this country that previously denied him the space and opportunity to hold a children’s book story hour program in their facilities — and that now are offering to work with him on room bookings after he challenged their denials and threatened to “assert” his “rights in court.”
Read full story

Kirk Cameron is denied story-hour slot by public libraries for his new faith-based kids book
December 7, 2021
(Fox News) With a new children’s book out that celebrates family, faith and biblical wisdom, actor-writer-producer Kirk Cameron cannot reach scores of American children or their families in many U.S. cities via the public library system because over 50 public libraries have either outright rejected him or not responded to requests on his behalf.
Read full story

A Fast Growing Network of Conservative Groups Is Fueling a Surge in Book Bans
December 12, 2022
(New York Times) Some groups are new, some are longstanding. Some are local, others national. Over the past two years they have become vastly more organized, well funded, effective–and criticized.
Read full story

Opinion: The school library used to be a sanctuary. Now it’s a battleground
October 31, 2022
(CNN) In September 2021, protesters ambushed the board meeting of the New Jersey school district where I have worked as a high school librarian since 2005. The protesters railed against “Gender Queer,” a memoir in graphic novel form by Maia Kobabe, and “Lawn Boy,” a coming-of-age novel by Jonathan Evison. They spewed selected sentences from the Evison book, while brandishing isolated images from Kobabe’s.But the real sucker punch came when one protester branded me a pedophile, pornographer and groomer of children. After a successful career, with retirement on the horizon, to be cast as a villain was heartbreaking.
Read full story

After Her Book Displays Drew Criticism, Librarian Elissa Malespina Lost Her Job. She’s Here to Say “I’m Not OK with This.”
October 13, 2022
(School Library Journal) Elissa Malespina was shelving books in the library at her new school. She started with the biography section, arranging titles to make the shelves more appealing to students at Union (NJ) High School, where she is the new school library media specialist.
Barack Obama. Rosa Parks.
She paused and debated which book to select next.“I better go with Colin Powell,” she thought. “Because then it’s a more conservative approach.”
That decision was not wrong, says Malespina, but the creeping doubt is new.
Read full story

Links provided to external (non-MBLC) news stories are done so as a convenience and for informational purposes only; they do not constitute an endorsement or an approval by the MBLC. MBLC bears no responsibility for the accuracy, legality, or content of the external site or for that of subsequent links. Contact the external site for answers to questions regarding its content.


Book challenges up Nationwide and in Massachusetts Libraries

According to American Library Association (ALA), there have been a record number of book challenges across the nation. In 2021 ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 729 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services, resulting in more than 1,597 individual book challenges or removals. Between January 1 and August 31, 2022ALA documented 681 attempts to ban or restrict library resources, and 1,651 unique titles were targeted.

The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC), the Massachusetts Library Association (MLA), and the Massachusetts Library System (MLS) are working together to understand how local libraries are affected, support libraries, and respond in a united way. In September a short survey was emailed to librarians to get a better understanding of the formal book challenges and informal objections or disruptions happening in Massachusetts libraries.

The survey asked:
Has your library experienced a formal book challenge (in 2021 and in 2022)? Which titles?
Has your library received informal objections from patrons or experienced disruptions related to books, displays, or programs (in 2021 and in 2022)?

The response:
103 libraries responded; Combined formal and informal challenges, objections, disruptions have nearly quadrupled since 2021, going from combined total of 20 in 2021 to 78 in 2022.

In 2022:
10 libraries reported 16 formal challenges
55 libraries reported 62 informal objections/disruptions (estimated count from included comments)

In 2021:
1 library reported 1 formal challenge
12 libraries reported 19 informal objections/disruptions (estimated count from included comments)

Challenged titles include:

  • It Feels Good to Be Yourself
  • Jay’s Gay Agenda
  • Camp
  • Gender Queer
  • Lawn Boy
  • People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present [Comment included with this title: (the person challenging it completely misunderstood what the book is about)]
  • Girls of Fate and Fury
  • My Heart Is On the Ground
  • Razzmatazz
  • Hot Dog Taste Test
  • Not My Idea

MBLC, MLA, and MLS continue to meet regularly to discuss ways to support libraries including training, support during a challenge, and potential statewide activities.

MBLC Service Update 4-1-2020

MBLC Service Update
April 1, 2020

As we work together to get through the current reality, the MBLC will provide regular updates on MBLC services and other statewide issues.  Please let us know if there’s info you’d like us to cover—we’ll include it if we are able. Stay well.

State Budget
Director Lonergan has been in touch with leaders of the Library Legislative Caucus. The Governor released his budget recommendation in January. However, it is uncertain whether the House and the Senate will be able to adhere to the normal budget schedule. House Ways and Means typically releases their budget in April and Senate Ways and Means releases theirs in May. The next fiscal year begins on July 1, 2020.

The legislature remains active and have passed or are considering several bills addressing the current crisis. Passed bills include moving the tax filing deadline to July 15 and allowing municipalities to delay municipal elections.

Federal Budget
The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) announced that the President has signed the CARES Act, which designates $50 million in coronavirus response funding for IMLS. Following passage in the House of Representatives, both chambers of Congress approved of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2 trillion response to the growing pandemic. The IMLS press release has more information. The MBLC anticipates further guidance on how much funding Massachusetts will receive and how these funds may be used.

MBLC Monthly Board Meetings
Contact: Rachel Masse
The MBLC held an emergency board meeting, via conference call, on March 19, 2020. The Board is holding its April 2, 2020 meeting via Zoom and will continue to address board business in this way until in-person meetings are again possible. Board meetings are the first Thursday of every month.

Construction-The Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program (MPLCP)
Contact:  Lauren Stara
Andrea Bunker

  • There has been no further movement on the bond bill, H4154; now H4039,  that contains funding for the Massachusetts Public Library Construction (MPLCP) program.
  • The requirement for monthly reporting is suspended. MBLC staff will keep you posted as to when reporting will resume and what will be required.
  • For active construction sites
    Governor Baker’s new guidance for all public construction projects statewide requires adherence to the “safety stand down” guidelines provided to the construction industry last week. This temporary order requires a halt to public construction projects (effective 3/27/2020), and applies to all projects managed or sponsored by the state or a state agency, including the library construction projects funded through the Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program (MPLCP), while contractors review site-specific issues, develop mitigation strategies and communicate to workers about new state guidelines for construction work during the coronavirus pandemic.

Those new state rules require, among other things, all workers to self-certify before each shift that they are not sick and that certain construction workers have their temperatures taken daily. Also last week, the Governor’s chief legal counsel sent a letter (https://www.mass.gov/doc/march-25-2020-construction-guidance/download) to city and town executives with the new guidance and instructions that all construction projects should continue operations during the Governor’s state of emergency but with social distancing measures incorporated. The guidance imposes a zero tolerance policy at work sites. If a worker is sick, they are to remain home. If a worker begins to feel sick on the job, they are to go home. And if a supervisor sees a worker who appears sick, they are to send the worker home.

Please keep us updated as you are implementing the guidelines required in the Governor’s directives and let us know of difficulties or challenges you face in the implementation of those guidelines.

Contracts/Business Office
Contact: Tracey Dimant
The MBLC business office sent out the second State Aid payments last week and continues to process contracts, funding requests from affiliates, and invoices from vendors, as well as handling daily operations.

LSTA (Federal funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services)
Contact: Lyndsay Forbes
Shelley Quezada
Rob Favini
Official statement regarding the current direct grant round

  • The LSTA team is working with libraries as they get ready to submit proposals that are due April 7 , 2020
  • LSTA staff are working with libraries finishing their current grants to rework their schedules due to COVID-19 disruptions.
  • There is a new LSTA-funded opportunity: Scholarships to attend the ARSL small libraries conference in November. Learn more
  • Shelley has been working with the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and sent a announcement out on all regions, pubdir etc to request help in getting out information about serving this community—librarians were very responsive (no surprise, there!).
  • Shelley is also been trying to keep up with what’s happening in prisons. Prison librarians are not going into the jails as it is a safety issue for them.

Networks
Contact: Paul Kissman
Kate Butler
MBLC convened a meeting with automated resource sharing network administrators and MLS last week to share current practices and planning around the pandemic.  Networks discussed eBook and audio content handling and purchasing, requesting and borrowing parameters, such as changes in overdues, patron notifications, amnesty periods, and how patron-placed holds are affected.  In particular networks discussed possible plans for managing the backlog of materials when libraries begin to reopen to the public and the statewide delivery system comes back online.

Preservation and Disaster Recovery
Contact: Evan Knight
MBLC Preservation Specialist Evan Knight, in collaboration with COSTEP MA board members and subscribers (“Coordinated Statewide Emergency Preparedness in Massachusetts”), has developed guidelines for response from the perspective of collections preservation. The page, “Public Health Emergencies: COVID-19,” was published March 13, and recently updated March 26 to reflect the dynamic situation. Two national organizations have recently cited the page for wider distribution: the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services, a division of the American Library Association, at “Handling Library Materials and Collections During a Pandemic,” and the American Institute for Conservation, at “Collections Care Amid COVID-19.” Thanks to Evan on this resource, which will be continuously updated, and please feel free to reach out to him with questions and concerns regarding your collections.
Evan also shares this valuable webinar from IMLS and the CDC: Mitigating COVID-19 When Managing Paper-Based, Circulating, and Other Types of Collections.
The webinar recording can be accessed here.

If you have follow-up questions for the CDC, you may submit them to imlsinfo@imls.gov.

The materials and links mentioned in the webinar have been added to the IMLS coronavirus page under “Official Government Information and Resources.”

Promotion
Contact: Celeste Bruno
Matthew Perry
Staff are using MBLC social media channels to connect users and librarians to digital resources.
The team has also created promotional posts for libraries to use on their social media channels:
Digital Library social media posts
New databases social media posts
Database promotion
The MBLC has developed database promotion for social media that takes users directly into the databases and gives the local library the usage statistic:
Databases Dogs
Databases Wellness
Databases Kids
Databases: Home Improvement
Databases Healthy Aging

State Aid To Public Libraries
Contact: Liz. Babbit
Uechi Ng
Mary Rose Quinn

Changes and updates can be submitted through our LibWizard form: https://mblc.libwizard.com/f/covid-19

Statewide digital library – libraries.state.ma.us
Contact: Kate Butler (website issues)
Matt Perry (content additions)
MBLC staff have been working to increase ease of access to digital resources. The consumer portal libraries.state.ma.us has been updated and expanded to include free-for-now resources as well as unique opportunities from authors, illustrators and educators. The resources can be seen at https://libraries.state.ma.us/pages/free-resources  Always free statewide resources are also included.  This one-stop place makes it easy for residents to find library resources and other free resources.

Summer/Bruins
Contact: Celeste Bruno
Rachel Masse
Matt Perry (materials and orders)
Staff has been in touch with our partners at the Boston Bruins. Many Bruins staff have been furloughed, including the staffer who works with us on the summer program. Right now , it is unclear whether Blades visits will occur this summer. Bruins summer materials have all been developed but the MBLC is holding off on orders for now. MBLC staff is working to confirm if the new for 2020 First Lady and Blades Summer Reading Challenge can still move forward. Staff has taken orders for the national CSLP poster but getting them out to the libraries is an issue due to closures.

Trustees and Friends
Contact: Maura Deedy
Rob Favini
Our Spring schedule of Trustee Orientations is currently paused in compliance with Governor Baker’s social distancing protocols. We will resume trustee orientations as soon as we can.
But in the meantime remember that Maura and Rob are available to answer any questions that you have regarding new trustee onboarding, best practices, or the latest MBLC information regarding library services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

2020 Census
Contact: Maura Deedy
Maura’s reminder: being home is the perfect time to take the census online or by telephone.

New resources that can help you get the word out: https://2020census.gov/en/how-to-help.html?utm_campaign=20200330msc20s1ccallrs&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

MBLC LibGuide: https://guides.mblc.state.ma.us/census

Nothing but Net Zero!

 

Sustainable construction is an essential component in the fight to mitigate climate change. While the Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program (MPLCP) has funded a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) incentive since 2008, code has evolved and sustainability measures have become more common practice. Materials, technology, and costs continue to improve and propel green building forward with products and systems that offer smarter, more efficient solutions.

Some of the practices growing out of this innovation include the passive building and net zero movements.  Passive building standards strive for optimal energy efficiency to reduce the amount of energy needed to sustain a building’s operations. This type of construction assists net zero energy goals where energy usage is completely offset by renewable energy that is produced on the property or purchased. Public libraries in Massachusetts are beginning to adapt to this method of building as part of municipal pacts to lower or eliminate fossil-fuel use in public buildings.

On November 4, 2019, the Cambridge Public Library’s new Valente Branch, a component of the King Open/Cambridge Street Upper Schools and Community Complex, opened as a net zero ready building, which means the infrastructure for net zero is in place. The last component for full net zero operations is the purchase of green electricity produced elsewhere. With 100% of building systems running on electric power, there are no fossil fuels used throughout the complex, adhering to the City of Cambridge’s commitment to make all public buildings net zero by 2040. The complex contains 190 geothermal wells approximately 500 feet down in the earth, and will collect solar energy from 74,070 square feet of on-site photovoltaic array. When the sun is not shining, the rain that falls is harvested for toilet flushing and irrigation. This use of the existing environment has the complex, including the library, on track for a targeted LEED level of platinum.

On October 29, 2019, at the Groundbreaking of the Medford Public Library, Medford’s commitment to net zero public buildings by 2050 was proudly celebrated. Using a unique arrangement of photovoltaic array on the waved roof of the new library, the building is projected to be net zero with no fossil-fuel use upon opening. The project is on target to be Medford’s first public building reaching LEED certification or higher.

Achieving sustainability at the LEED and net zero levels requires forethought and prioritization of those goals throughout the design process. At Library Journal’s Design Institute in Austin, Texas, Gail Vittori, the Co-Director of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, shared the detailed timeline for the Austin Central Library’s platinum-level LEED building. Planning began in 2007, with the team having to anticipate future advances in LEED requirements for a building that would not come to fruition until ten years later. John Daniels, the LEED AP and Interim Facilities Director at the Austin Central Library, emphasized that if sustainability is not a priority, essential elements can fall prey to cost-cutting measures to remain within budget. From selecting a site that allows for production of renewable energy to constructing a building envelope that utilizes principles of passive building design to choosing finishes that are local, recycled, and environmentally-friendly, each step must be approached with sustainability as a driving factor.

For libraries that already stand, a growing body of case studies and best practices for deep energy retrofits has emerged within the last decade. Deep energy retrofits usually involve a whole building approach, but as mechanical systems and building envelopes may have different life cycles, libraries may have to pursue each upgrade piecemeal. Just as with new construction, prioritizing energy efficiency and reduced or eliminated carbon emissions in each decision can forge a path toward a passive building or a net zero building.

The most successful green initiatives are whole-community initiatives, with pledges like Cambridge’s and Medford’s to make all public buildings models of efficiency and sustainability by a targeted year. The support of community members and their local officials, who vote to provide the matching monetary-backing of public library projects, is essential for ensuring buildings that work for the best interests of future generations and the environment. Forward-thinking design and construction is possible with detailed planning and unwavering commitment.

Our commitment to helping libraries achieve sustainability continues with targeted programming this Spring, beginning with a Sustainability Summit at the Shrewsbury Public Library on April 29, 2020, from 10 AM to 1 PM. A link to registration and more information will be provided as the date approaches.

Letters About Literature: 2019 Awards Ceremony Held at State House

By Ellen Flanagan Kenny, Communications Associate at the Massachusetts Center for the Book

L-R: Norwood High School English teacher Elizabeth Colahan, Kenneth Amis, Elizabeth Amis, Norwood High junior Jason Amis (Level 3 Honoree), and Senator Michael Rush.

Thirty students were honored at the annual Letters About Literature awards ceremony, held on May 23 in the Reading Room of the State Library at the Massachusetts State House.  Representative Natalie Higgins, House Co-Chair of the Library Caucus, provided the legislative welcome and thanked the many legislators on hand to welcome families, teachers, and librarians to this “Celebration of Massachusetts Student Reading & Writing.”

The Letters About Literature program is sponsored nationwide by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress and administered by state centers for the book which operate in each of the 50 states as well as in the District of Columbia, the US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Students in Grades 4 to 12 write letters to authors about books, poems or speeches which had a profound effect on them.  One of the most active state programs, Massachusetts again received thousands of letters from all corners of the Commonwealth.

Level 2 (Grades 7-8) Top Honors awardee Bezawit Seyfe O’Neill of Brookline (Montrose School) reading her letter.

In her remarks, Sharon Shaloo, Executive Director of Mass Center for the Book, told the thirty honorees that they represented the top 1% of participants in Massachusetts.  “Every year, and perhaps this year more so, Letters About Literature reminds us of the power of books, the importance of reflective thought and writing, and the necessity of those activities in an engaged and civil society,” Shaloo said.

An outstanding team of 2019 judges including Sharon Bernard, Director, Fitchburg Public Library; Beth Ineson, Executive Director, New England Independent Booksellers Association; and David Mazor, Executive Director, Reader to Reader, Inc., presented awards to the student honorees.  Judging assistance was also provided by the English Department at Salem State University and MCB staff and volunteers.

The 26th annual Letters About Literature program was made possible by a generous grant from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, with additional support from gifts to the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

L-R: David Mazor, Executive Director of Reader to Reader, Inc., Beth Ineson, Executive Director of NEIBA, Representative Natalie Higgins, House Co-Chair of the Library Caucus, Sharon Bernard, Director, Fitchburg Public Library, and James Lonergan, Director of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

The Massachusetts Center for the Book, chartered as the Commonwealth Affiliate of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, is a public-private partnership charged with developing, supporting and promoting cultural programming that advances the cause of books and reading and enhances the outreach potential of Massachusetts public libraries.

For more information, contact info@massbook.org or call 617-872-3718.