Bills against book bans are gaining traction in state legislatures around the country, with concerns rising about the potential negative impact on libraries. The number of banned books across the country increased by almost two-thirds in 2023, totaling over 4,200 titles, according to a report from the American Library Association. The pushback against book bans has led to the introduction of bills in states like New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and New Mexico. Illinois and California have already enacted legislation in this area, with some including fines for non-compliance, a move that experts worry could be detrimental to underfunded and understaffed libraries and public schools.

Experts have expressed concerns over the enforcement measures included in some of the bills, such as fines for school districts or the withholding of library funding if the provisions are not followed. This could create difficulties for smaller or rural communities that have fewer resources. Budget constraints may also lead to circumstances that could be misinterpreted as violations of state laws, such as books going missing from shelves due to damage or a lack of funds for replacements. Some argue that this could unfairly target schools and libraries that are already under increased criticism and scrutiny due to the movement to ban certain books.

Illinois’ new law requires state libraries to adopt the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, which prohibits the banning, removal, or restriction of reading materials based on partisan or doctrinal disapproval. Failure to comply could result in libraries becoming ineligible for state grant money. State Senator Laura Murphy defended the law, stating that it was intentionally designed to hold libraries accountable and ensure an inclusive range of book titles. Concerns have been raised over the potential weaponization of funding against libraries, although some experts believe that connecting funding to the bill is necessary for its effectiveness.

California’s law focuses on penalizing school districts for discriminatory removal of books from library shelves, with financial penalties from the state Education Department as a consequence. The aim is to protect access to books that reflect the diverse experiences and perspectives of Californians. Librarians across the country are facing criticism about the types of books they provide, making it crucial for laws against book bans to consider the potential burdens on library staff. Some state lawmakers have removed financial penalties for libraries from their bills, as seen in New Jersey, where concerns were raised by librarians about the impact of such measures.

Washington and Oregon have introduced legislation against book bans focused on school districts, but do not include fines like California. These bills aim to establish vetting processes for books used in schools and prevent the exclusion of instructional materials that feature groups or individuals protected from discrimination. Lawmakers in Washington and Oregon are observing how California’s enforcement provisions play out before deciding on adding fines to their bills. The goal is to unify vetting processes in school districts while ensuring that anti-discriminatory protections are in place, without putting additional financial pressure on libraries.

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