Intellectual Freedom

Graphic Novels Under Fire in Missouri

Intellectual Freedom and the freedom to read children’s and young adult literature is a hot button topic and has been a hot button topic for the last few years since the pandemic.  Books, specifically books with LGBTQI+ characters and books centered around racial issues, are being used for political clout and to whip up the ire of conservatives throughout the United States.  Groups are systematically organizing and fueling the fire to remove books from library shelves across the country–both public and private school libraries.  Missouri schools are no exception.  On August 28, 2022 Missouri Senate Bill SB 775 was signed into law causing school librarians across the state of Missouri to pull graphic novels from their shelves in a panic.  School district leaders required their librarians to pull any graphic novels that met the restrictions of the law in hopes that they could circumvent a possible lawsuit.  Some district leaders left the reviewing and weeding of those materials up to middle school and high school librarians–most of whom work as lone librarians and with no library support staff. The work had to be completed quickly and meticulously heaping on more responsibilities in an already overwhelming and demanding job.

Image by: Mikhail Nilov via pexels.com

Middle school and high school librarians in my district did a deep dive into their graphic novel collections to determine which books might fall under the new law.  Materials that contain explicit “pictorial, three dimensional, or visual depiction, including any photography, film, video, picture, or computer generated” images are subject to a librarian being charged with a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a possible fine up to $2000.  The state is targeting individual librarians–not the district–individual public and private school librarians that check these books out to their students.  Many Missouri school districts feel as though that since this law targets individuals and not districts, their only option was to pull the books from the school library shelves.  

School librarians, lead librarians, and district library coordinators throughout the state of Missouri have worked tirelessly to offer advice and compile the resources librarians need to tackle the new law.  With the help of the Missouri Association for School Librarians and the efforts of the Missouri Library Leaders Committee, there is help to combat the issue before any librarian is charged with a crime.  National organizations like PEN America, ALA, EveryLibrary.org, and the ACLU have been instrumental in offering their expertise with book challenges and SB 775.  Though school librarians are facing unprecedented challenges, school librarians of Missouri have adapted quickly and strategically.  I am confident that librarians will win this battle of governmental overreach.

This post addresses the core competency of IV. Knowledge, Curation, & Management of Materials.

Anne M. Link is the elementary school librarian at Bristol Elementary School and the Library Media Specialist District Coordinator for the Webster Groves, Missouri School District.  

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