(Daily Caller News Foundation) – Democratic lawmakers privately negotiated with the nation’s largest teachers union to craft a bill intended to combat bans of sexually explicit books in schools, according to a letter obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation.
The Right To Read Act was reintroduced by Democratic Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva and Democratic Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed in April 2023, and is 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 bill also authorized $500 million in funding for school libraries and provides liability protections to school librarians and educators providing sexually explicit books to students.
A February 2023 letter signed by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) Board of Directors outlines Sen. Jack Reed’s involvement with the National Educational Association (NEA) in crafting the Right To Read Act, suggesting Sen. Reed revised the bill’s language in response to comments from the teachers union. The revisions also removed language defining a “state-certified librarian” as responsible for curating library materials, according to the letter.
The DCNF previously reported that the American Library Association, of which the AASL is a subdivision, worked with Reed and Grijalva to help craft the legislation.
The letter, which was obtained through a public records request and addressed to former ALA President Lessa Pelayo-Lozada and the ALA Executive Board, suggests the NEA was advocating for paraprofessionals, not state-certified librarians, to perform the role of a school librarian.
“In early September 2022, Senator Reed’s office reached out to inform NEA via email they were working on the Right to Read Act, a ‘right to read legislation’ that would ‘include a definition of right to read, amendments to strengthen and expand access to school libraries and literacy programs, liability protections for librarians and teachers from state laws on book banning, etc,’” the AASL Board wrote. “Subsequently, Senator Reed’s office revised language in response to NEA comments about liability. AASL was not made aware that updated language in the definition of the right to read also removed the ‘state-certified school librarian’ responsibility for selection and curation of library materials.”
The AASL board disapproved of the revisions, writing that “the need for professional curation of school library collections is already under attack and this omission removes support expected by AASL members.”
The letter states that representatives from ALA, AASL, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and NEA privately met to discuss the language of the Right To Read Act in December 2022. Per the letter, the teachers unions advocated to, “…enable paraprofessionals to work in the role of a fully certified school librarian,” which the School Librarians Association opposed.
The letter does not indicate that individuals representing Reed or Grijalva were present at this meeting, but states the ALA Public Policy and Advocacy Office recommended that future meetings between the library associations and teachers unions should be “lobbyist to lobbyist.”
As battles over the content standards of school libraries have erupted across the nation, some of those defending the right of minors to access sexually explicit content have cited the need for communities to trust the expertise of librarians to curate age-appropriate school library collections.
For example, ALA President Emily Drabinski was recently asked about the role of librarians in curating books with sexual content and said, “Librarians are professionals, we have master’s degrees.”
“We are experts in thinking about books and thinking about collections we build for everybody, not just the individual reader,” she continued.
In 2013 Drabinski, who has advocated for sexually explicit books to remain in school libraries, authored the academic paper, “Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction,” which encourages librarians to incorporate Queer Theory into their curation practices.
Drabinski has also drawn criticism for openly identifying as a Marxist. In July, the Montana State Library Commission left the ALA stating, “Our oath of office and resulting duty to the Constitution forbids association with an organization led by a Marxist.”
State legislatures across the nation have engaged in legislation addressing the content of school libraries.
In an interview discussing Illinois HB 2789, a bill which prohibits alleged ‘Book Bans’ and requires libraries adopt the ALA’s Bill of Rights, Governor J.B. Pritzker was asked about parental objections to children accessing Gender Queer, a book known for its sexually explicit content, without their permission.
“Communities hire the librarians in their libraries, they’re experts at this and all we’re really saying is that the libraries need to adopt a standard,” Pritzker replied. “There has to be some kind of a standard that they are living by and that bill of rights that the American Library Association has put forward is one that simply says you can take a book of the shelf simply for personal disapproval. Remember there is some other family that might think that book is just fine.”
Conservative groups, such as Moms For Liberty, have advocated for school libraries use objective standards to determine the age-appropriateness of school library materials.
In a private ALA member forum Christopher Harris, an ALA Senior Policy Fellow, raised concerns over the use of the word ‘appropriate’ writing, “..school libraries are taking a beating right now over the word appropriate.”
“My concern is that the word appropriate is subjective and personal. Each person will have a determination of what they consider to be appropriate. The word relevant is more objective and norms-based. Relevance feels more like a condition that is set from the outside rather than determined from internal consideration. And so, I would like to invite some feedback on possibly asking ALA and OIF to switch from “developmentally appropriate” to “developmentally relevant” as the phrase of choice for discussing book selection and placement.”
The Right To Read Act was reintroduced in April 2023 with the full support of the AASL. The AASL, ALA, NEA, and Senator Reed did not respond to a request for comment.