Ban all that (supposed) book banning!

A DFL bill with a “book banning” prohibition would prevent school boards from “ban[ning], remov[ing], or otherwise restrict[ing] access to a book or other material based on the viewpoint, content, message, idea, or opinion conveyed.”

Under the provision, only a “qualified librarian” would have the authority to make or oversee library book and material decisions and “to decline to purchase, lend, shelve, or to remove or restrict access to books or other materials as part of regular collection development practice.”

First, how this provision would work given current state statutes is about as clear as mud.

The bill states that parents would still have the right “to request a content challenge under section 120B.20.” The Parental Curriculum Review law allows an individual parent to object to instructional materials provided to an individual child and “make reasonable arrangements with school personnel for alternative instruction.” If the alternative instruction offered by the school board does not meet the concerns of the parent, the parent can provide alternative instruction. But library books aren’t always assigned or used as instructional materials, as they are also made generally available to students just looking for something to read.

So, say that a teacher gives a reading assignment, and the student is to retrieve the reading material from the library. That would be considered an instructional material subject to the parental curriculum law. The parent could request an alternative book for their child to read in order to complete the assignment.

But because that book is in the school library, it is also available for other students to check out on their own to read. If that book contained content a parent or group of parents found inappropriate because, say, it was sexually explicit, this proposed provision prohibits the school board from agreeing with the parent(s) that the content is inappropriate and either removing the book or restricting access to it. Only the librarian would be able to make that call.

Which brings me next to section 124D.991. This law requires school libraries to have a procedure in place for challenged library materials, like this policy in the Anoka-Hennepin school district. According to the policy, the responsibility for the selection of all materials used in schools legally falls on the school board. The school board delegates the responsibility for the selection of library materials to the librarian/library media specialist. So, presumably, if a book is challenged, the challenged materials procedure in 124D.991 would be limited to making a decision on the book unrelated to viewpoint, content, message, idea, or opinion conveyed.

Second, and in my opinion more importantly, is there really widespread book banning that needs to be stopped or is this proposed provision just a political statement?

I won’t repeat all that I have written here, here, here, and here about the breathless reporting on the topic, but what is worth repeating is that empirical studies have found most of the supposedly “banned” books are still available in school libraries. And books that have been removed or have restricted access overwhelmingly contain sexually explicit, obscene content. (In case you doubt what is being considered sexually explicit, here are some examples.)

More so, on the flip side, what’s going on in school libraries “isn’t so much a problem of banned books,” but that “kids are often exposed to only one side of the story,” writes James Fishback for The Free Press, who surveyed the library catalogs of 35 of the largest public school districts in eight red states and six blue states, representing over 4,600 individual schools.

For example, How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, which argues that the “only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination,” is stocked in 42 percent of the U.S. school districts I surveyed.

Meanwhile, only a single school district — Northside Independent School District (ISD) in San Antonio, Texas — offers students Woke Racism by John McWhorter, a book that challenges the borderline religious “anti-racist” ideas advanced by Kendi.

Felix Ever After, a book by Kacen Callender that claims that girls who hate “being forced into dresses and being given dolls” are transgender, is available in 77 percent of the districts I surveyed. But not a single school out of the nearly 5,000 I searched offers books critical of trans theory. Students won’t find books like Trans by Helen Joyce or Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters by Abigail Shrier, both recent bestsellers that present skeptical takes on the rapid rise of transgender identification among adolescents.

Fishback also compared the percentage of available books by some of the world’s most well-known progressive thinkers to the percentage of available books by some of the world’s most well-known conservative thinkers and discovered similar imbalances. It’s worth checking out.

Perhaps a library’s collection is simply a response to public demand, but to help regain the confidence of users and society, librarians should “recognize their biases and recommit to striving for library neutrality and viewpoint diversity in collections,” writes Cathy Simpson, chief librarian and CEO of the Niagara-on-the-Lake public library.

As a recent example, a library director in Maine put Irreversible Damage on the shelves, and kept it there despite backlash, as he “want[s] the library to be there for everybody, not just people who share my voting record.”

The House Education Policy Committee will hold a hearing on HF 3782, which contains the “Book Banning Prohibition” provision, on Wednesday, Feb. 28 at 3:45pm.