Librarians facing more staffing challenges, threats and even violence amid book bans

WASHINGTON — Many public librarians are being forced to quit over concerns about their safety.

This comes amid a growing number of book bans nationwide with many of them in Texas, Florida and South Carolina.

“Am I coming home, you know? Was I arrested after a board meeting? Do they need to be there am I safe?,” said Amy Churchill, library director at Lapeer District Library in Michigan.

Amy Churchill has worked in the library profession for 20 years. She says those are questions and concerns her family has now about her safety at work.

It comes after Churchill says she was threatened with criminal charges this spring for refusing to remove a book about gender identity from the library’s collection. She said the whole experience brought a mixture of support and backlash.

“It also brought a lot of negative attention on me. I did get calls threatening me and letters threatening me,” said Churchill. “And you know, having a place to put all that is difficult too.”

But Churchill’s story isn’t isolated.

“We’re seeing library staff resign or be fired in the wake of these kinds of threats and escalation,” said Maria McCauley, immediate past president of the Public Library Association (PLA). “This is unacceptable. It is an issue that affects people’s mental health. And staff should not fear for their lives for doing their jobs.”

In its most recent survey, the PLA says more than a quarter of all public libraries reported losing staff leading up to 2021. Officials warn those shortages impact more than just access to books.

“The includes access to life changing services for job seekers, new computer users, budding readers, entrepreneurs, veterans, and tax filers just to name a few,” said McCauley.

However, those in favor of these bans argue this is about more than books. Moms for Liberty is a conversative group that advocates for parents’ rights in education.

Their members believe there should be more scrutiny over educational materials.

“I think everyone needs to be paying attention. There’s are important conversations for people to be having at the local school district and if you see books that are being pulled for review and you’re concerned i think you need to have your voice heard,” said Tiffany Justice with Moms for Liberty.

PEN America is a national literature nonprofit that’s been tracking banned books. It finds there were 1,477 instances of books banned during the first half of the 2022-23 school year.

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