Books

Maryland Passes Freedom to Read Act

Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She’s the editor/author of (DON’T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

Late last week, Maryland Governor Wes Moore signed the Freedom to Read Act into law. The legislation is a massive step toward curtailing book bans which have roiled the country and the state.

House Bill 0785, filed concurrently as SB 0738, is a series of comprehensive protections for school and public library workers, as well as the materials acquired and housed in these institutions. In both public libraries and school libraries, the bill protects access to books and other library items by stating they cannot be removed or prohibited from collections because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval. Collections seek to serve the research and recreational needs of all and materials cannot be be excluded based on the origin, background, or views of its creator (think your books by or about people of color and/or under the LGBTQ+ umbrella).

School libraries need to develop collection policies, as well as make available a challenge policy. The policies explicitly state that even when a materials challenge arises, those books will not be removed from the collection during the process–in other words, they will not be “temporarily” banned unless a decision to remove the material is the conclusion of the review process.

For public libraries, standards for collections will also be required. Libraries must be in alignment with state standards, such that protecting materials are not able to be removed via “local control” arguments. The State Library Board will make this easier for public libraries in the state with samples.

The bill puts protections in place for library workers, as well. They cannot be removed from their positions for acquiring, cataloging, nor protecting unfettered access to the collection.

House sponsor of the bill Dana Jones celebrated its passage.

“I’m proud that Maryland is a place where everyone can see themselves in literature, where that book will remain on the shelves for them to read and see and not feel alone and that people’s history isn’t erased,” she said. “We’re not telling anyone what to read. The readers are choosing. People are choosing. This is a statewide bill for everyone to protect literature, libraries and librarians and I couldn’t be prouder.”

Libraries need to comply with the Freedom to Read Act in order to receive state funding. This is similar to the legislation passed in Illinois last year. The law goes into effect immediately.

One provision in the initial bill that did not make it to the final relates to material vandalism. The proposal that intentional destruction or marring of library materials would be considered a misdemeanor offense with a fine of up to $1,000, 10 months in prison, or both, was scrapped from the final bill.

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