The Culture Wars Hit School Libraries Hard
New censorship laws threaten school librarians and students’ access to educational resources.
With Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' recent political stunt banning AP African Studies courses from Florida high schools, the fundamentalist-conservative attack on education shows no signs of slowing down.
In fact, The Washington Post has reported that over the past three academic years, twenty-five states have passed sixty-four laws severely curtailing education. These bills include anti-critical race theory laws, so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bills, and anti-access bills targeting school and classroom libraries.
Of these new laws, fully 18.8 percent are aimed at school libraries. As students struggle to learn truthful accounts of history, politics, and culture, school book collections and online library databases have become a battleground.
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School Library Databases Attacked
Florida, Texas, and Utah have all passed legislation that limits students’ access to online library databases. Another four states have introduced similar bills that failed to pass.
Under the guise of protecting children from pornography (a widely used tactic in the book banning movement), these laws specifically target material containing LGBTQ+ content. The position of these bills is that anything referencing sexuality, especially non-heteronormative sexuality, is pornographic by default. This censorship also extends to material that is inclusive of a broader definition of gender and may reference trans or nonbinary topics.
As a result, student access to online materials, such as digital magazines, ebooks, audiobooks, and academic journals, is being cut.
In addition, some database vendors are removing innocuous material if they believe there is any chance it might be misconstrued.
Book Collections Censored
Along with databases, book collections are also on the line.
For example, a Florida law that took effect July 1, 2022, requires elementary schools to publish a list of all texts included in their library. This makes it easier for parents to remove texts and lesson plans.
Many of these new laws criminalize school librarians, threatening them with fines and jail time if they provide a student with a book their parents believe is objectionable.
Some school libraries, fearful of retribution, are requiring librarians to read through every single book in their collection to identify anything that could be offensive according to fundamentalist-conservative sensibilities. This often means that thousands of books are being kept from students while awaiting review.
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Inventing a Problem
The reality is that school libraries and databases are already highly controlled environments. Most kids are a Google search away from explicitly violent and pornographic content.
Yet, rather than face these real issues, parents and conservative legislators are aiming their rage at educators. In the process, students’ educations have become collateral damage.
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