Republican-controlled States Quit Nation’s Oldest Library Group Amid Culture War Over Books , Teachers fired for Assigning Classic Books that have been in the Curriculum for Decades
A 150-year-old organization, the American Library Association (ALA) is the latest target of the culture war being promulgated by the far-right of the Republican party.
Now states controlled by Republican legislators or represented by Republican Senators and Congressmen are turning down money and training from the ALA, claiming it is setting out to sexualize children.
The partisan battle is like nothing the ALA has ever had to face before in its history as an uncontroversial — some would say sleepy and dignified history. It is the oldest library association in the world. It has existed to provide funding, training, and tools to most of the country’s 123,000 libraries, including the libraries of Chaffee County, Colorado.
But now — the far right and those claiming their “parental rights” to control what their children learn, are leading to raging debates over what and how to teach about race, sex, and gender. That doesn’t mean the ringleaders of this attack are experts in the topics they are attacking — they are themselves sexualizing the topic and applying adult interpretations to childhood, something that Chaffee County got a taste of when the directors of the Chaffee Childcare Initiative and The Schoolhouse were charged with child abuse for the actions of a three-year-old.
Now, the historic library system is being entangled in the education culture wars; the agenda for which is being pushed by groups such as Moms for Liberty, The Colorado Christian Seminary in Lakewood, Hillsdale College, the Steamboat Institute, and abetted by dozens of Christian “think tanks” and institutes enforcing conservative theology.
Their attack on the American Library Association includes claims that by allowing the original text of books, it is abetting sexualizing children. During a U.S. Senate Judicial review this past week, conservative politicians and parents on the right increasingly paint the association as a defender of pornographic literature.
The American Library Association is facing a partisan firefight unlike anything in its almost 150-year history. The once-uncontroversial organization, which says it is the world’s largest and oldest library association and which provides funding, training, and tools to most of the country’s 123,000 libraries, has become entangled in the education culture wars. The raging debates over what and how to teach about race, sex and gender culminated in Tuesday’s Senate hearing, where conservative Senators complained about the ALA as promoting pornographic materials.
Simply by offering and supporting the full range of literary history, books such as The Diary of Anne Frank, The Color Purple, Black Like Me, or even Shakespeare, the ALA, say conservatives, is contributing to the sexualizing of children. Never mind that some of the ultra-conservative “Christian” sects promote forcing girls to marry early, forbid birth control, or women in their control doing any work outside the home.
For the past 20 years, the ALA has tracked requests to pull books from library shelves. The requests have risen dramatically in the past few years. According to an ALA report , it tracked 1,269 attempts to remove library books in 2022, the highest number of challenges to books since it began compiling statistics on the issue. The books garnering the highest complaints are books written by or for LBGTQ+ audiences.
“What we’re seeing is a lot of fear from people, a very vocal minority, that has managed to paint the wrong picture of the majority of public libraries,” said Susan Gregory, the director of Bozeman Public Library in Montana, talking with The Washington Post.
Not only is the ALA facing a partisan firefight, but teachers are increasingly caught in the crosshairs. Just this week a Houston, Texas middle-school teacher was fired for reading from the graphic version of The Diary of Anne Frank to students in her classroom. Now this diary about the coming of age of an actual teenager who died in a Nazi concentration camp was published in 1947, so it’s not new. But the graphic novel format incensed conservatives for its teenage thoughts on sex and gender.
The thing is, local news media has reported that while district officials claim the adaptation of Anne Frank’s Diary was not approved, it was included on a reading list sent to parents at the start of the school year.
As the movement banning books in public schools and public libraries on topics that far-right conservatives deem inappropriate gains steam, it might be wise to look back in history at other totalitarian efforts to censor topics, books and people, and how that turned out.
The American Library Association has more than 50,000 members and chapters in all 50 states. It sends millions to libraries every year, providing thousands of hours of professional training. It advises local libraries on navigating federal grant applications, hosts a scholarship program for librarians of color, and accredits library and information-science schools nationwide.