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Librarian weighs in on bill that would ban books viewed to be “sexually explicit” by parents

“We don’t have pornography in school libraries; I want to be very clear about that."
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Posted at 7:15 PM, Feb 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-21 19:40:34-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Libraries are typically a quiet place, but these days librarians and book lovers alike are making some noise and it has to do with Senate Bill 12. The bill in its current form could criminally punish school librarians for what books are in the collections they oversee.

Chad Heck has been a school librarian for 15 years. He says parents’ concerns are always taken seriously by following a process that's already in place.

"We look to review sources, and they help us determine what age group that book would be appropriate for, where to put it in our collection and whether to collect it, " Heck, who is also the Co-Chair of the Advocacy Committee for the Indiana Library Federation, said.

Heck says they take an unbiased standpoint when deciding what books to add to collections.

They use sources like the School Library Journal, Book List and Kirkus reviews. Those resources have been around for decades.

The School Library Journal was established in 1954. Book List, a publication of the American Library Association, had it first issues in 1905. Kirkus reviews was first issued in 1933. Heck says they consult these publications when parents are concerned about the appropriateness of certain books as well.

"Some parents want their kids to have access to diverse materials and others might want to have a different conversation,” Heck said. “We think that's great. But one parent shouldn't make that decision for everyone. “

Heck has concerns that this could limit diverse materials for students, but he did want to make one thing clear.

“We don’t have pornography in school libraries; I want to be very clear about that,” Heck said. “The books in our collection just don’t meet that definition. I'm sure that we have books in our library that we don't all agree with. There are books in my library that I don't agree with; that's what libraries are for. We have lots of different perspectives and if you don’t want your child to read books from a certain perspective you can have that conversation with your child. “

Rachel Burke with the Indiana Parent Teacher Association understands parents’ concerns. She says most schools in Indiana offer alternative reading options for parents not comfortable with what is being assigned.

"If you are in a place where you don't feel comfortable with the reading, that is absolutely your right as a parent,” Burke said. “Ask for an alternative reading assignment. You should be given it and it should be done in a way that doesn't diminish your child either. "

However, she's concerned that banning books could alienate points of view relatable to certain children.

She used the example of the children’s book "And Tango Makes Three," which tells the story of two male penguins that raise an egg together.

"Groups may not like the content, but the content is not by any means obscene, but it covers LGBTQ issues or something along those lines," Burke said. "Groups would want to see those pulled and those books are incredibly important for the children that they serve."

Senate Bill 12 could prosecute school librarians for adding material that could be viewed as harmful to minors.

The bill was scheduled for a second reading Tuesday, but that didn't happen. It will likely be brought up another day.

The proposed law applies only to K-12 schools. Universities and public libraries are not impacted.

The bill must pass out of the Senate in a week or it is dead.

If parents have a problem with a book that's in a school or public library, they can bring that concern to a librarian. Then, a form is normally filled out and passed on to either the library or school board. That board will then make the determination.

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