Book Bans: More than Just the Obvious Negative Effect
How book ban attacks distract librarians from their jobs.
With the continued assault on public and school libraries by activist groups trying to have books pulled from shelves, the obvious outcome is that when those advocating for book bans win, libraries will have fewer books on the shelves. They’ll also have much less diversity in their holdings, given the types of books being targeted for bans.
While that’s a terrible result, it’s not the only negative effect book bans have on libraries. The time library workers spend responding to people who want specific books banned erodes their time for other critical library services. Librarians who normally have responsibility for ordering new books for their facilities now spend much more time justifying their purchases or getting permission from principals, school boards, or public library stakeholders. In January 2023, the Washington Post reported that one librarian had more than one hundred conversations with children who wanted to know why their library wasn’t getting new books anymore, especially popular fantasy series titles.
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Other libraries have been ordered to do deep research into their collections to make sure books don’t have particular situations and characteristics deemed immoral or unethical by various groups. A public library in Victoria, Texas, was told by the county commission (which didn’t fund the library but owned the building it was in) that the library would be evicted if they didn’t remove all books identified as pornographic or obscene. The city council joined the battle, saying if the policy wasn’t implemented, the city would consider freezing its funding for new materials.
These types of crackdowns mean library workers must spend time combing through stacks to figure out what materials would be deemed pornographic or obscene for removal, rebutting these tactics, or potentially finding a new, more sympathetic home for the library. Any of these responses could result in hundreds of hours of labor that could be better spent developing and implementing programs to benefit the community, such as various storytimes, tween gatherings, and public book groups.
Even the threat of book bans or laws that move in that direction can have a debilitating effect. A library in St. Charles, Missouri, had to rethink its plan to take a bookmobile to various schools after a law was passed in August 2022 to criminalize anyone showing anything considered explicit at a school. With the law being new and untested, library staff were unwilling to become guinea pigs in the legal system and dropped schools from the bookmobile’s routes.
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