Beyond book bans: how book challenges are impacting librarians and libraries in Massachusetts

Book challenges are not new; but in the past few years, book challenges have been occurring in record numbers. According to the American Library Association (ALA), there were 45 book challenges in Massachusetts in 2022 affecting 57 titles. That’s more than the past 9 years (2013-2021) combined which totaled 38 challenges. Nationwide, ALA reported 1,270 book challenges in 2022, up significantly from 350 in 2019.

To date, no books have been banned in Massachusetts, however the Joint Task Force for Intellectual Freedom, with members from the Massachusetts Library Association (MLA), Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC), Massachusetts Library System (MLS), the Massachusetts School Library Association (MSLA) were interested in whether the challenges were having other impacts on library services.

In July 2023 the task force conducted an informal survey to better understand the impact book challenges are having on library services and staff. The survey was open to library directors at all types of libraries who were asked to report on activity from June 30, 2022 to July 1, 2023.

Respondents by library type:
Public:  199

School:   35

Academic: 2

Special: 1

Significant Findings:

11 public libraries with a total of 59 challenges (one library had 32) were not reported to ALA, MLA, or MSLA during June 30,2022 to July 1, 2023.

Nearly 25% of school and public librarian respondents combined reported being harassed on social media; 22% reported being harassed via email; 18% report being harassed in person related to book challenges or program challenges.

48.5% of school library respondents reported that they reconsidered displays and books or items featured due to negativity surrounding book challenges.

18% of public library respondents reported that they eased up on publicizing an event which may be considered controversial.

The Massachusetts Library Association, Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, the Massachusetts Library System, and the Massachusetts School Library Association recently released a statement in support of libraries and intellectual freedom. Individuals can show their support by signing on at These organizations also provide information and support to librarians and communities experiencing book and program challenges. Intellectual Freedom & Censorship: Impact in Massachusetts and Beyond and More Licensed School Library Teachers, Less Book Banning have more information. For full survey results please contact or .

Get to Know Commissioner Jessica Vilas Novas

What is your favorite thing about being a commissioner?

In my short time as Commissioner, I have enjoyed visiting libraries and getting inspired by the creativity and thoughtfulness at play across Massachusetts. I always leave the libraries with the desire to return with my children. I also enjoy being a voice at the table where I can speak up for equity and equality, and being part of important conversations that affect library services for so many.

What do you love about your local library?

Although my family and I recently made our home in Haverhill, my longtime local library in Lawrence is where I enjoyed story times in the children’s room as a child, and where my son got his first library card. It’s also where I had the honor of leading as Director and being a part of growth and change so I love the special connection I have to it. Arts and culture play a large role in the Lawrence community and the library joined in by partnering with a local art organization on a 40-foot mural featuring Lawrence’s past to present with images of mill children to a young girl from the City today. Driving by that mural makes me smile as it helped to serve as a welcome back to many families who had not been engaging who could identify with the familiar images and know that the library was there to serve them. 

The 40-foot mural outside of Lawrence Public Library.

What do you like to do when you’re not being a commissioner?

I enjoy traveling and dining with my family and experiencing shows from theater, concerts, and art exhibits which means we are catching up from the slowdown in 2020! The arts are important in my life and have led me to leading community writing clubs and exposing my son and daughter to different art forms. Little Ava loves to paint, and Jordan is learning to play the drums. Professionally, I’ve been enjoying growing my consultancy this past year where I am focused on providing thought leadership to executive directors and managers, as well as mentorship to their teams. I have the honor of co-producing the Bread and Roses labor festival for a second year in Lawrence through my consulting and look forward to supporting more individuals and organizations. I also lead worship at church and serve as a deacon.

What books have inspired you? *or* What book changed your life?

There are so many to choose from and they change according to the aspect of my life. I will say that one book that changed how I viewed leadership and organizational change is Jim Collin’s Good to Great. I read it while getting my Masters in Education and it has since served as the basis for how I approach my work, becoming the framework I used as a library director and now while coaching individuals. I was also greatly inspired by John Maxwell’s Put Your Dream to the Test which I read when I ventured off to live in LA after college and which motivated me to never stop working towards my goals. Aside from leadership books, I enjoy memoirs as I am deeply interested in who people really are and these vulnerable pieces of work allow us a better glimpse. I also think learning more about what makes someone tick versus only knowing the public version of them allows us to see the whole person, making us more authentic in our leadership and work and being better communicators.

What are you reading right now?

I’m currently reading and studying two cases from Harvard Business School to prepare for a day of learning this week, as part of an executive leadership network I am a part of called LEADS. 

Boston Bruins PJ Drive event in 2019 with Commissioner Mary Ann Cluggish (leftmost) and Commissioner Jessica Vilas Novas (second to the right) when she was library director at Lawrence Public Library.

Get to Know Commissioner Les Ball

Did You Know? 🌠 The MBLC is the oldest state library agency in the country! 📚 Since the MBLC was established in 1890, library commissioners appointed by the governor have been tasked with the responsibility to develop, coordinate and improve library services throughout the Commonwealth. This week we are spotlighting *Commissioner Les Ball* who was appointed in 2018 and ending his term this year.
Commissioner Les Ball giving remarks at the Marlborough Public Library Groundbreaking in 2021.

What is your favorite thing about being a commissioner?

The most fun that a Commissioner has is breaking ground for a new or expanded library. The next is cutting the ribbon for a new library.  At these events you see the positive impacts of our construction program on a community. Everyone at these events are happy and excited for their communities and what the library will do for them. I get to meet wonderful people all of whom give back to their communities in a variety of ways. It is also important for us to recognize that we are the lobbying group that is most responsible for keeping state funds for libraries growing. When I see these budgets increase, I am pleased with the success that we have had.

What do you love about your local library?

My local library, The Scituate Town Library, was rebuilt about 5 years ago with a grant from the MBLC.  I was President of the Scituate Library Foundation that raised nearly $2M for the building. I have a great deal of pride that shows when I walk into the building. Beyond being a building, the library employees are some of the nicest people that you would ever want to meet.  Their presence gives you a feeling of belonging that is extended to everyone. It is the only building in town that welcomes every citizen whether they are a three-year old for a story time, a teenager who needs help with a school project, or an elderly person who just wants to sit by the fire and read today’s newspaper. It’s home.

What do you like to do when you’re not being a commissioner?

(Commissioner Ball is pictured here with his dog, Lucille (Lucy) Ball!)

I am a golfer and live on a golf course. Needless to say, I play lots of golf. I also attend a lot of golfing events where I work with my son who manages the media for these events. Also, I love to travel with trips planned for Florida, California and Europe in the near future.  I spend quite a bit of time playing guitar. After about 15 years of playing, I am not good but enjoy playing for myself. I try to learn a new song each week, mostly Beatles, America, Eagles, and other popular groups. Spending time with my wife and family is a high priority.

What books have inspired you? *or* What book changed your life?  

Certainly, the Bible is the most inspirational book ever written. Books that enhance my faith are high on the list. While working, I read most of the books about leadership that came out. I am inspired by reading biographies about former presidents and other historic figures.

What are you reading right now?

I am reading Kristin Hannah’s “The Great Alone” about a family that moves to Alaska and trials that they go through. I am a member of a couple book club that has been in existence for over 45 years with nearly the same members. We read about 10 books per year. We have just finished reading “The Violin Conspiracy” by Brendan Slocumb. I am looking forward to our discussion about the book that will occur in a few days.  However, one of the best parts  of the group is that we each nominate a new book and explain why we should read it. I get a lot of reading ideas from that discussion. 

Key Findings and Recommendations in School Library Report

By Judi Paradis, Librarian at Thomas R. Plympton Elementary School

The Special Commission on School Library Services in Massachusetts submitted its final report to the Legislature this month.  George Comeau served on this Commission representing the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.  The report of the Commission includes key findings regarding equity and access issues in the Commonwealth’s school libraries.  The Commission provided legislators with a series of recommendations for improving equity in Massachusetts public schools, and provided a comprehensive plan and timeline for their implementation.  In a letter to the Massachusetts Legislature, the Commissioners urged legislators to accept their recommendations and work with DESE to ensure their implementation.

The Commission, which included legislators, members of the library and educational communities, and community members, contacted two respected researchers to conduct a comprehensive academic study to evaluate school library programs for equity using a series of data points specified in legislation passed by the Massachusetts Senate in 2013 (Bill S. 1906).  The leading researcher, Dr. Carol A. Gordon, is a retired Associate Professor in the Department of Library and Information Science at Rutgers University where she served as the Co-Director of the Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries (CISSL).  She was assisted by Dr. Robin Cicchetti, Head Librarian at Concord-Carlisle Regional High School.  The study was distributed by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), and data analysis assistance was provided by CISSL.

The Massachusetts School Library Study: Equity ad Access for Students in the Commonwealth provides a report of the research conducted by Drs. Gordon and Cicchetti along with five broad recommendations that as goals for a long-term plan.  The complete report is available on the website of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners and you can find it here.  Analysis of the data and the resulting findings show there are statistically significant differences in measures of status and equity for students from urban and rural districts compared with students from suburban districts.  Based on these findings, the Commission  recommends:

Recommendation 1.0. Improve Access to School Libraries and School Librarians

  • Recommendation 1A. Every public school in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a school library and a certified school librarian.
  • Recommendation 1B. Establish the position and responsibilities of the School Library Curriculum Specialist at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
  • Recommendation 1C. Support a culture of inquiry in schools that sustains inquiry and resource-based learning, collaborative teaching, and the integration of digital technology to improve access for all students

Recommendation 2.0. Improve Access to Information Resources in School Libraries:

  • Recommendation 2A. Increase access to print resources in school libraries.
  • Recommendation 2B. Increase access to electronic resources in school libraries.

Recommendation 3.0. Improve Access to Information Technology:

  • Recommendation 3A. Improve access to Internet and digital devices in school libraries.
  • Recommendation 3B. Increase access to Information Technology through staffing.

Recommendation 4.0. Improve Access to Library Instruction and Help.

  • Recommendation 4A. Promote best instructional practices in the school library.

Recommendation 5.0. Improve Access to Funding:

Funding cuts across all the dimensions of school librarianship.  Guidelines for Budget Allocation and Expenditure should be developed to support Recommendations 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, and 4.0.

The Commission thanks The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners for providing support for this important work.  We look forward to seeing our recommendations adopted to improve school library programs for all Massachusetts public school students.

Keen Eye for Detail Sets Shrewsbury Apart

Shrewsbury’s revamped library held its grand opening on September 21. This renovation and expansion project made room for more computers, a new community meeting space, group meeting areas, and a courtyard adjoining the children’s room.

The new space configuration and furniture setup pays homage to the design details and charm of the historic 1903 building while also accommodating the needs of present-day patrons. Self-checkout machines, plentiful power outlets, and many options for seating – whether visitors want to read for hours, charge their devices, study, or just relax in front of the window for a moment – allow for customizable, user-centered experiences in the library.

Massachusetts Libraries ( Relaunches

Massachusetts Libraries (, the online portal for statewide library resources & services first launched in 2007, has been completely redesigned. We wanted to keep it simple and user-friendly while also offering personalized access to catalogs and collections.

screenshot of massachusetts libraries website homepage

Visitors are first prompted to find their local library by entering a zip code, town, or library name. The new site is then customized with access to their home network’s catalog and the Commonwealth Catalog, making it easy to search both locally and throughout the state. It also helps visitors find ebook collections and provides immediate access to online articles. And there’s a new A-Z title list of all research journals, magazines, and newspapers available through our statewide subscription.

In the Your Local Library section, visitors can find out about classes, events, and workshops – such as summer reading and early learning programs, high school equivalency exam prep, and English learning groups – at nearby libraries and literacy centers. The Digital Collections page highlights digital libraries and special online collections, great resources for teachers and students looking to explore history in Massachusetts and beyond.

We’ll be testing the site with users and consistently making adjustments throughout the coming months, so we welcome any and all feedback on the new site! Send your thoughts and comments to

Hello world!

This is a new blog from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners about what’s happening in the library world, both at the state level and beyond.

We’ll be writing about our partnership with libraries around the state, exploring the revolution in library programs, services, and building design that’s reshaping the way we do business in the 21st century. We’ll also be raising awareness about how libraries help bolster our cities and towns through early learning and literacy programs, tech training, community partnerships, and more.

Interested in writing a guest post?
Whether you’re a librarian who wants to share special events or news about your library, an educator with a passion for reading or lifelong learning, or a tech employer who values 21st century skills, we welcome contributions from all perspectives.

Here’s what we’re looking for:
• 500 words or less
• Informal, personal writing style – like you’d expect from a blog!
• Pictures and videos are always welcome.
• Please note: We may lightly edit posts for brevity and tone.

Send your submissions here.