(Daily Caller News Foundation) – The former president of the American Library Association (ALA) said the organization helped “develop” legislation intended to combat attempts to remove sexually explicit books from school libraries, according to documents obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation.
The Right To Read Act, reintroduced by Democratic Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed and Democratic Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva in April, ensures students can access “culturally diverse and inclusive materials,” including sexually explicit books, as well as granting liability protections for librarians who curate these materials. The bill is explicitly intended to rebuff efforts by parents and Republican lawmakers to remove sexually explicit content from school libraries, according to a press release from the lawmakers.
“The Right to Read Act is a direct response to those efforts and reaffirms that first amendment rights apply to school libraries, given the alarming trend of book banning, and protects school librarians and other educators in carrying out their duty to protect students’ right to read,” Grijalva said in the press release.
Lessa Pelayo-Lozada, the 2022-2023 ALA president, wrote on April 10, 2023 that the ALA helped “develop” the Right to Read Act during a discussion in an online forum for ALA members called “ALA Connect.”
“There have been some discussions about if it would be possible to develop other legislative approaches that bolster these protections,” she wrote. “ALA helped developed one such approach, which was introduced in Congress last year as the Right to Read Act.”
The remark came during a discussion thread titled, “Action needed Today: Parents Bill of Rights- Act and Spread the Word,” in which members discussed ways the ALA could take action to counter legislation like the Parents Bill of Rights, a piece of legislation intended to empower parents’ roles in their children’s education.
“Regardless of any proactive approaches we might support, there is no silver bullet to stop people from proposing bad ideas, so unfortunately we expect it will be necessary to continue playing defense for the foreseeable future,” Pelayo-Lozada wrote. “Which is also why we have the Unite Against Book Bans campaign.”
Unite Against Book Bans is an ALA initiative “to empower readers everywhere to stand together in the fight against censorship,” according to the ALA website. Unite Against Book Bans provides an action toolkit that includes ‘Book Ban’ talking points, instructions on how to organize a peaceful protest, and a guide to attending library and school board meetings.
They also provide a link where local book challenges can be reported to the ALA, as well as a list of the ALA’s most challenged books of 2022. This list includes books with sexually explicit content, such as Gender Queer, All Boys Aren’t Blue, and Lawn Boy.
The ALA advocates for these books to be kept in school libraries, according to an ALA policy titled “Access to Library Resources and Services for Minors: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights.”
“Libraries should not limit the selection and development of library resources simply because minors will have access to them,” the policy reads. “A library’s failure to acquire materials on the grounds that minors may be able to access those materials diminishes the credibility of the library in the community and restricts access for all library users.”
“The measure would require schools to publish their curricula publicly and demands that parents receive a list of books and reading materials accessible at the school library,” the ALA wrote. “ALA has launched an advocacy campaign asking members to contact their legislators regarding this threat to students’ and educators’ intellectual freedom.”
Kathleen Breitenbach, co-author of LGBTQIA+ Books for Children and Teens (published by ALA Editions) and elected member of The Council of the American Library Association, defended children having access to ‘Gender Queer’ in an interview.
“It’s good for queer kids to have representation but it’s also really vital for non queer kids to see it as normal. And we’re out there. See what the possibilities are,” Breitenbach said. “I know Maia Kobabe has said with Gender Queer, if you take away the books, the kids don’t know what to Google to find out about themselves. It just makes everything harder for everybody.”
The ALA has come under increased scrutiny since electing current ALA president Emily Drabinski, a self-proclaimed Marxist, with Republicans in several states calling for their state library’s to leave the ALA.
The ALA, Reed and Grijalva did not respond to a request for comment.