Washington Post: “Students Want New Books. Thanks to Restrictions, Librarians Can’t Buy Them.”
From The Washington Post:
In one Texas school district, school librarians have ordered 6,000 fewer books this year than the year before, because under a new rule parents must have 30 days to review the titles before the school board votes to approve them. In Pennsylvania, a school librarian who must now obtain her principal’s okay for acquisitions has bought just 100 books this school year, compared with her typical 600.
States and districts nationwide have begun to constrain what librarians can order. At least 10 states have passed laws giving parents more power over which books appear in libraries or limiting students’ access to books, a Washington Post analysis found. At the same time, school districts are passing policies that bar certain kinds of texts — most often, those focused on issues of gender and sexuality — while increasing administrative or parental oversight of acquisitions.
It is difficult to gauge exactly how much school book orders have plunged amid this wave of added regulation, but the available data suggests a significant drop. Steve Potash, president and CEO of OverDrive, which supplies e-books and audiobooks to more than half of the nation’s roughly 16,000 school districts, said his company lost millions of dollars in sales in 2022 as school library orders took a nosedive. He declined to be more specific.
Potash noted the dips were especially steep in Texas and Florida, where debates over what children read and learn — about race, racism, history, gender and sexuality — have been fierce. Potash said he is girding for a further drop this year: “It’s troubling. It’s impacted not only our business, but the authors and the readers and the students.”
Conversations with 37 school librarians across 21 states suggest they are facing heightened scrutiny and a thicket of red tape — where before they had wide latitude to choose the books they thought would best supplement the curriculum and stimulate students’ literary appetites.
And librarians say they are less willing, these days, to buy books dealing with difficult aspects of American history, race, racism and questions of gender identity, especially texts focused on the experiences of transgender people. Potash said OverDrive sold far fewer of these kinds of books last year.
John Chrastka, head of library political action committee EveryLibrary, warned that the impairment of librarians’ ability to purchase books will lead to out-of-date collections that do not match school curricula and are less likely to spark students’ enthusiasm for reading.
“We know very clearly from the research that a key driver for individual reading success is self-directed reading, when kids pick up a fun new book that interests them,” he said. “There will be gaps in learning.”
About Gary Price
Gary Price (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com.