American Dystopia: Arresting Librarians For the Books on the Shelves.

Proposed censorship measures in several US states could lead to librarians facing criminal charges as a result of their commitment to free speech and access to library materials.

Proposed censorship measures in several US states could lead to librarians facing criminal charges as a result of their commitment to free speech and access to library materials.

Librarians in Texas, Indiana, and Wyoming are facing measures that mean that they may soon find themselves under attack for stocking books against racism and about the lives and experiences of LGBT Americans.

This politicization of books and literature is being carried out by well-funded political organizations and individuals running scam PACs who are simply attempting to bilk Americans out of their hard earned dollars by attacking librarians.

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New threats to librarians and their defense of free speech come in the wake of educators across the country being forced to defend the use of books that object to racism in their classrooms in the face of politically inspired complaints. Recent news stories such as educators and librarians reporting being required to stock books that present opposing viewpoints (in favor) on the Holocaust have left many Americans feeling shocked and confused.


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Librarians finding themselves in handcuffs in the line of defense of free speech is not a new trend. Librarians in Kansas City, Missouri were shocked in 2016 when their colleague Steve Woolfolk was arrested at work for defending the right of a public program attendee to question a visiting presenter. A proposed bill followed in the state of Missouri in 2020 moving to imprison and fine librarians for failing to comply with library censorship policies. 

In Texas, school librarians are facing an increased workload as a result of an order to survey their collections for titles deemed potentially dangerous. In a campaign tactic to increase his name recognition and rally support, a candidate for Texas Attorney General recently succeeded in ordering school librarians to identify which of 850 book titles are currently in their school’s collection. He further demanded that librarians declare how many copies they have of each title and how much money they spent on the books. At this time it is not clear what steps will be taken with the information collected. Librarians, who are already overloaded with work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, are questioning the motives for such a survey. In light of the widespread heated debates about books on topics such as sexuality and race, many feel that the, until now unknown, Texas Attorney General candidate is merely trying to villainize school librarians and score political points with his potential voter base. 

In Wyoming, a recent violent public outcry forced library staff to cancel a program for children. This coincides with proposed state and local policies questioning books shelved in the children’s department. Many have called for the removal of books that they disagree with accompanied by criminal charges and arrests for librarians found to be in noncompliance.

In Indiana, a bill that would punish schools and public libraries for sharing “harmful material” with minors, was withdrawn before its final reading in the Senate by the author of the bill, Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville. According to this bill, schools and public libraries would be at risk for Level 6 felonies if parents disagreed with the books on the shelves. According to Indiana law, a Level 6 felony—the same as possession of child pornography—carries a sentence of six months to two and a half years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

Many argue that the process of removing and reevaluating the appropriateness of a book within a library collection should be, if nothing else, a more objective process. If such measures are going to become widespread many perspectives and expertise should be brought to the table for open dialogue on these issues as opposed to a mandate from a single or small body of elected officials. Opponents draw parallels to Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 and the symbolic history of book burning.

Sign the petition to defend your right to choose what you and your family read.

These regressive policies are a slippery slope that leads to the repression of divergent viewpoints. Especially in the case of Texas, a huge manufacturer of textbooks used around the world, many fear the large-scale impact that such measures could have. Many humorously point to the fact that as lists of books deemed potentially harmful are circulated it will lead to an increase in interest in the titles. Others argue that learning happens when students encounter books that introduce them to new viewpoints and perspectives.

“Not being told what to think taught me how to think,” one library advocate pointed out on social media.

As advocacy groups rush to the defense of libraries it is hoped that librarians can weather these policies and retain the ability to protect freedom of speech in the United States without fear or threats to their freedom.