The Utah Library Association (ULA) and the Utah Educational Library Media Association (UELMA) are aware of the removal of 52 books from Alpine School District. We are alarmed because it is clear from the school board meeting that the sub-committee tasked with evaluating these books did not fully read them. It is necessary for every challenged library material to be evaluated as a whole. This requirement was established in the Supreme Court case, Miller v. California (1973). Federal law requires that the “Miller Test” be followed to determine the serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value of an entire book and state law mirrors this requirement. Thus, the “Miller Test” was not followed when books were removed without due process. The Supreme Court also ruled in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969) that students' First Amendment rights must be protected while they are in school. Illegally removing these books infringes upon Utah students’ protected First Amendment rights. This dangerous move not only opens up Utah taxpayers to costly and time consuming litigation, it also harms students. Students can safely explore at their school library under the guidance of professional school librarians. School libraries were designated “places of voluntary inquiry” in the Supreme Court ruling Island Trees School District v. Pico (1982). Thus, students must have access to books that not only reflect their own experiences but also help them learn about others. Having access to books that reflect the many aspects of human thought and experience is more important than ever as our students grow to become leaders in our global environment. It is extremely troubling that 21 of the books that were removed have LGBTQIA+ characters and themes. Our LGBTQIA+ youth have the highest youth suicide rate in the nation. However, the Trevor Project reports that LGBTQIA+ youth are less likely to attempt suicide when they have access to LGBTQIA+ affirming spaces and information. Many of the books that were removed also deal with complex issues such as race, growing up, health, and addiction. These books might not be right for every reader but school librarians work with parents and caregivers every day to help them find appropriate materials for their children. We believe that parents and caregivers have the right to discuss reading and book selections with their own children. However, they do not have the right to make these crucial decisions for other families. We encourage all Utahns who are interested in learning more about the important role of libraries in supporting student success and a healthy democracy to read our jointly authored ebook, “Utah Libraries: Keystone of Healthy Democracy, Student Success, and Prosperous Communities'' available for download at ula.org/guide. We call on the Board of Alpine School District to immediately return all books to the shelf. If there are legitimate challenges to any books, the Board must follow their own policy and state and federal laws in evaluating each title as a whole to determine whether it has serious value for students and involving parents that are reflective of the school community in this process.
The Utah Library Association became aware of a censorship issue at Orem Public Library through social media posts on May 29 which stated that the Orem City Council is forbidding the library from doing any displays in the children’s area related to Pride Month in Utah. The library director has indicated that in spite of the positive reception and thankful comments from parents last year, there will not be a Pride display in the Children’s wing this year, and instead there will be a single display in another location in the Library away from the children’s area. In the interest of serving all members of the community, library staff have wide latitude to create or not create displays, and to decide where to locate them. However, it is unacceptable, and a possible infringement of citizen’s first amendment rights, when politicians intervene and direct staff to eliminate planned displays or have them moved to a less frequented area of the library because those politicians do not like the topic or viewpoint being expressed. Moving a children’s book display to the adult section where materials may not be age appropriate for children is problematic because it actually increases the likelihood of exposing children to material that is unsuitable for their age and makes the materials less accessible for families and harder to discover. It is important to note that Pride Month is a nonpartisan observance and recognition of the fight by LGBTQ+ Americans to have their rights as American citizens fully recognized under the law. In 2022 Utah Governor Spencer Cox has again issued a proclamation naming June “LGBTQ+ Pride month in Utah.” The Proclamation says, “we must encourage relevant and vital conversations about what it means to love each other, understand our differences, and support our LGBTQ+ friends and family members.” We stand with Governor Cox, and agree with his recent statement in conjunction with the Utah Pride Month Proclamation that “there should be nothing controversial about supporting a group of people in our state who have historically been marginalized.” Sadly, we know that LGBTQIA+ youth have a higher incidence of mental health issues and the highest youth suicide rate in the nation and (according to a CDC report) are four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers. Additionally, research from the Trevor Project reports that LGBTQ+ youth are less likely to attempt suicide when they have access to LGBTQ+-affirming spaces and information, which means there are literally life and death implications at stake. In short, a display of curated, age-appropriate materials, in conjunction with Utah Pride Month, is an absolutely appropriate and important way for the library to serve Orem’s parents and youth, families, neighbors and friends. It must also be noted that in a state where hate crimes against LGBTQ+ residents nearly doubled last year there are real and measurable health and safety impacts to be considered when Council members forbid age-appropriate displays of LGBTQ+ materials. Indeed, a recent news article reported that “officials and community members worry divisive politics could embolden future attacks.” [Hate crimes against Utah LGBTQ nearly doubled last year, with a big jump during Pride Month, Salt Lake Tribune, May 31, 2022] We trust librarians to fulfill the library’s mission, and to create collections and displays for all community members, without illegitimate, politicized pressure to restrict, impede, or limit community members’ access to age-appropriate information based on viewpoint. We therefore request that Orem City Council members publicly and transparently address their actions in this matter, rescind any directives they have given to the library related to displays of materials, and commit to refraining from future directives that seek to restrict library staff from carrying out the mission of the library, or directives that seek to limit access to information for the residents of Orem. Signed
- Utah Library Association: Marissa Bischoff, President; Katie Wegner and Rikki Carter,
Intellectual Freedom Co-Chairs; Peter Bromberg and Rebekah Cummings, Advocacy
- Equality Utah: Troy Williams, Executive Director
- PFLAG: Provo/Utah County, Heather Kester, Vice-President
- Utah LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce: Liz Pitts She|They, President & CEO
Statement from the Utah Library Association in Support of School Libraries and Librarians
The Utah Library Association, founded in 1912 and representing thousands of librarians and library workers across the state, stands with parents, teachers, and school librarians in advocating for the health, well-being, and safety of all students.
We strongly support local school boards in the creation and following of policies that ensure that school libraries have materials that support the Utah Core Standards for education. The Utah Core Standards identify a number of roles for School Libraries, including helping students: 1) read to pursue intellectual, personal, and emotional growth for life, and 2) make personal connections while respecting the right to read, seek information, and speak freely.
The Core Standards for Grades 6-12 specify that “Libraries support independent readers by providing a variety of materials for informational and leisure reading,” and that “Reading extensively strengthens stamina and broadens students’ global perspective. The goal is to recognize individual students’ interests and needs and provide materials in a variety of formats, genres, and languages, at varied reading levels.”
The Standards further state that “Students need the lifelong skills of selecting information from a wide variety of sources . . . preparing them for learning, doing, and problem solving in college, career and throughout life.”
To ensure that school libraries support the “inquiry-based learning” that statewide standards call for, it is imperative that school library collections continue to provide access to materials that reflect a variety of thoughts, perspectives, and experiences. The targeted elimination of materials that reflect the authorship or experiences of anyone based on their race, gender, or sexual orientation is not only illegal, it puts Utah students at a disadvantage academically and in the job market by failing to provide an education that prepares them for success in an increasingly diverse and global economy.
We support policies that provide reasonable opportunities for parents to speak with teachers and librarians about what is appropriate for their child. And we champion prudent procedures that allow for “requests for reconsideration” when there is concern that a book may not be age-appropriate. Most libraries have had these time-tested policies in place for a century, and librarians have strong records of listening and working with parents in taking appropriate actions in a respectful and responsive manner.
Following the rules when library books are questioned–rules which are passed by a Board in an open, public, transparent, and consultative manner–protects the constitutional freedoms of all parents and students, and also safeguards due process, ensuring that no one parent, group of parents, or administrator can substitute their personal preferences, biases, or political agenda for the legitimate policies that exist to support official statewide school standards and the success of all students.
School librarians are literary arbiters that curate their collections based on such legitimate policies, professional reviews, and award lists. This includes literature that reflects painful parts of human experience, including violence, abuse, and discrimination. To be clear, pornographic material is not reviewed for selection as these items only appeal to the “prurient interest” of readers, and lack serious literary, scientific, or artistic value. Labeling literature that addresses issues of race, abuse, gender, or sexual orientation as “pornographic” or “obscene” fails to meet any state or federal standards, and harms our students, limiting their ability to understand and navigate the world.
And helping students prepare for success in the world is what school librarians do. There is a great deal of research that shows that students thrive academically in the presence of a well-staffed, professionally run school library and that the effect is strongest for vulnerable and at-risk students. School librarians help students develop a love of reading and inquiry, and as well as develop 21st century literacy skills such as critical thinking, which enables them to identify, find, evaluate, and use information and ideas effectively and ethically, now and in the future.
The Utah Library Association supports the Supreme Court’s recognition that libraries are places for voluntary inquiry and should contain a world of ideas and experiences, even if some of those ideas and experiences might be uncomfortable for some. We urge parents, teachers, school librarians, and administrators to engage in community conversations and follow established collection development and reconsideration policies, as well as state and federal laws, to ensure the health, well-being, safety, and success of all students in Utah.