It has been hard to find good news related to intellectual freedom these days. It feels like there is just a waterfall of terrible, horrible, no good very bad news. Sometimes it can be fun to shine the light on a dark censorship situation, but I myself am feeling pretty burned out from so many dark situations. Fortunately I was able to find a diamond in the rough. Have you heard about the Right to Read Act yet? If not, read on.
This fall, Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), introduced the Right to Read Act. The Senate bill may be found here and the House bill may be found here. This bill is a response to the recent flurry of book challenges in public schools and reaffirms that First Amendment rights do apply to school libraries. The Right to Read act would extend liability protections to teachers and school librarians and ensure that all students have access to an effective school library staffed by a certified school librarian.
That last part about all American students having access to a school library staffed by a certified school librarian is huge to me. The school district area that my public library serves eliminated all school librarians for grades K-8 years ago. It is the 6th largest public school district in the state of Illinois. Additionally, one of the four high schools in my public library district eliminated its high school librarian years ago. Their paraprofessionals order whatever the students ask them to. This is an affluent suburban area that could conceivably afford school librarians, they just do not want them. If this is true for me, I am sure that it is true for many others across the United States. We want our students to have high quality education, but we definitely do not want to spend money on that high quality education so…our students do not get it.
I believe that gutting America’s school libraries of library professionals has contributed to the enormous book challenge situation we find ourselves in now. Throughout the 2010s, parents whined about their high property taxes and the schools responded. School libraries can just be staffed by volunteer parents, right? We don’t actually need school librarians in school libraries. Parents are seeing the results of these cost cutting decisions now. You might find age-inappropriate books in your child’s school library because you got rid of the professionals in order to save money. Certified school librarians belong in school libraries for the same reason that parent volunteer police officers or parent volunteer EMTs are deemed unacceptable. It is an entire profession worthy of real, certified professionals who know what they are doing.
Additionally, while the Leroy C. Merritt Humanitarian Fund does exist to help library workers in need of financial assistance for legal representation, eliminating that need would be a huge relief for American educators. According to PEN America, at least 24 states have introduced legislation to restrict teaching in K-12 schools since 2021. You can find a live spreadsheet detailing each bill in each state here as well. Again, if we want American students to be the best and brightest, we need to take the boots off the necks of American educators. If not, other countries will continue to surpass the United States in all sorts of fields of study.
This bill is of course still just a bill, but it has been supported by the American Library Association and the American Association of School Librarians . Would you also like to voice your individual support? Sign the electronic thank you card to Senator Jack Reed and Raúl Grijalva here. Or if you are in more of a leadership position, follow Chicago Public Library’s example and sign your library up to be an official book sanctuary. Until next time folks, keep fighting the good fight for intellectual freedom and the First Amendment.
Holly Eberle is the Teen Programming and Outreach Librarian at the Algonquin Area Public Library District in Illinois. She received her MLIS from the University of Illinois in December 2015. In addition to intellectual freedom, she is also passionate about the opioid epidemic and getting Narcan inside every public library.