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Massachusetts legislators file bills to prevent book bans

Bookshelves are full at the East Forest Park Library branch in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Paul Tuthill
Bookshelves are full at the East Forest Park Library branch in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Public libraries would be required to adopt clear policies to receive state funds

Massachusetts lawmakers are looking to protect public libraries in the state from attempts to ban books.

In response to a rise in attempts by conservative groups and parents to remove materials from library shelves, a group of Democratic legislators are proposing to effectively blunt book bans by putting up new requirements for libraries to receive state funds.

State Senator Jake Oliveira of Ludlow and State Rep. Aaron Saunders of Belchertown have filed identical legislation in their respective chambers. Oliveira said they hope to block the national book-banning movement before it can take hold in Massachusetts.

“This is all an attempt to censor material in our public libraries, in our schools, focusing in on certain populations,” Oliveira said. “It is based in a right-wing ideology, not based in fact, it is based in xenophobia and we’re not going to stand for that here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

The bill would require that in order to be eligible for state grant funding, libraries would have to adopt the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, which states in part “materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.”

The Library Association reports that attempts to censor books reached a 20-year high in 2022 – with twice as many attempts as the year before. A survey in June of more than 100 libraries in the state by the Massachusetts Library Association found at least 78 challenges to books so far this year – up from 20 all of last year.

“These upticks we’ve seen in these book challenges at the local level is something that is targeting certain communities,” Oliveira said.

What spurred the two western Massachusetts legislators to act was a proposal before the Ludlow School Committee earlier this year that would have removed several titles from the schools’ libraries. It ultimately failed without a vote. The sponsor admitted the proposal had been copied directly off the internet.

“Coming from Ludlow and having served 12 years on the Ludlow School Committee seeing policies that are proposed by school committee members just grabbed from the internet without being vetted by attorneys that are focusing on communities of color and the LBGQT+ community is just unconscionable to me,” Oliveira said.

The legislation is before the Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government where Saunders said they hope to get a hearing on it this fall.

“We are obligated to take steps to protect these freedoms and these materials from being banned for what amounts to a political objective,” Saunders said.

He said they’re seeking co-sponsors for the legislation.

Separately, a bill filed by State Senator Julian Cyr addresses school libraries. It establishes standards for the removal of books by a school committee vote. It would allow challenges to the removals to be made in court.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.