Twitter was aflutter the last weekend in March when Follett Library Services proposed a new module in its popular management system. Librarians across the country were swift in their response to Follett’s proposed feature in their Destiny software: an automatic email system for parents, which would be sent to them anytime a student checks out a book at school. Such emails would include the title of the book, a short description or even tags that are placed on the book to distinguish its genre. The proposed module would have allowed parents to request that a student not be able to check out books tagged as LBTQ in Destiny.
Well-known librarians on Twitter began responding right away. School librarian, speaker, and author Jennifer Lagarde posted: “Wow. I truly hope @FolletLearning is not seriously considering this. These types of changes are intrusive and serve only to cater to activists. This would be the kind of thing that would cause me to rethink my district’s contract with them should this turn out to be true.”
Follett Library Services is the leading library management system for K-12 schools worldwide.
Twitter posts from librarians said the Follett changes were in response to a news report from Forsyth County, Arizona. District leaders there were looking for ways to increase parental involvement in students’ book selections as wells as to “expedite the process by which books that potentially contain sexually explicit material are challenged and removed.” Follett denies that the module change was in response to recent book complaints across the country. Instead, as reported online by School Library Journal, Follett says, “it was approached by districts in Florida to adhere to the new Parents Rights in Education Law, which takes effect July 1.” The proposed module change would notify parents of the books their child had checked out from the school library. In addition, parents would be able to limit their child’s access to materials in the library.
School librarians like JoyAnn Boudreau posted via Twitter: “There are times when you have to choose a side. @FollettLearning is trying to be in the middle by providing people ways to block certain tags of books & such. This is not the middle they think it is. These steps are clearly choosing the side of the people censoring books. These steps are certainly not for students/patrons or librarians who they claim to support. I will not be ordering any more from Follett while they are considering or doing such things.”
Many of the Twitter posts expressed concerns for the privacy rights of students. School librarians wondered how such a change to Destiny records would affect our students, especially those in marginalized communities. Charleston, SC librarian Alana Lewis said, “Middle schoolers are always curious about things, whether it be lgbtq books, books about bodily things (like periods), or things about the law (drugs, crime, stuff like that), and I find nothing wrong with them checking out age relevant texts about those things. Middle school is also an age where we lose so many readers that violating their privacy is the last thing I want to do!”
Library Media Services Coordinator Christy James, from Charleston, SC, said: “If this is indeed true, we very likely will be looking for a different platform that better protects readers. We’ve always had the option to make notes in students’ accounts based on family requests, so there is no need for this. Regardless of where this particular Follett issue lands, it also brought up other important discussion points like how we handle overdue notices. We don’t have to send notices home and if we do, those notices don’t have to have titles or covers on them.”
In response to the uproar from librarians, Follett scheduled a live webchat titled “Addressing the Discussion Surrounding Follett.” Librarians quickly encouraged their colleagues to register for the chat.
Then, on April 1, Follett CEO Britten Follett released a statement: “We take seriously the feedback we have received from librarians and industry partners regarding a potential parental control module for Destiny Library Manager. Based on this feedback, Follett will not proceed with any plans to develop this module. At Follett, our mission is to support librarians and get books into the hands of students. We support the American Library Association’s Bill of Rights and advancing – not limiting – the role of the librarian and the school library.” The webchat was also canceled.
During the last week of March, 2022, school librarians united in their opposition to parental control modules as part of our library management policies. We support our young patrons’ right to privacy, and we collectively affirm that the Library Bill of Rights is a foundation of our service. We also know this challenge to student privacy is not over. Our vigilance must continue to ensure that our patrons continue to have access to the materials they desire.
Kellyanne Burbage lives in Charleston, SC, and recently retired after 27 years in education which included teaching science and serving as an elementary librarian. Kelly’s interests include connecting students to science through children’s literature and by promoting science careers. In her spare time, Kelly enjoys sharing current NASA events as a volunteer Solar System Ambassador. She is a NatGeo certified educator and frequently writes about science education and intellectual freedom in her local newspaper.