Cyr Files Bill to Safeguard Free Expression in Public and School Libraries
Legislation would thwart ‘book bans’ and the removal of materials from libraries based on personal or political beliefs
BOSTON – On June 30th, the last day of Pride Month, state Senator Julian Cyr (D- Truro) filed SD. 2673, An Act regarding free expression. The bill ensures that public and school libraries can offer diverse and inclusive books, media, and materials without political interference.
“Massachusetts is home to the nation’s first public library and first public school because we have long appreciated that unabridged access to knowledge is key to opportunity and fulfillment,” said Cyr. “At this sad moment when hate and fear are driving too many cruel policies across the nation, and yes closer to home, Massachusetts must continue to champion values of equity and belonging. Indeed, books are among our most compelling windows into the myriad of human experiences and capture the breadth of knowledge. We cannot allow small-minded bans or politically opportunist censorship interfere with the right to read.”
When signed into law, An Act regarding free expression would prevent book removal due to personal or political views in public and school libraries. Further, it would empower school librarians and teachers to determine access to age-appropriate materials in school libraries. Public libraries would be required to adopt the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights. The legislation would also protect librarians from retaliation. Cyr’s bill was crafted in consultation with ACLU Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, the Massachusetts School Library Association, and MassEquality.
“Across the country, there is a coordinated attack on students’ right to learn,” said Carol Rose, Executive Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Book bans in school and public libraries—places that are central to our abilities to explore ideas, encounter new perspectives, and learn to think for ourselves—are misguided attempts to try to suppress that right. We applaud the communities that have resisted such attempts in Massachusetts and thank Senator Cyr for his efforts to protect all children’s access to an equal and safe education in the Commonwealth.”
This legislation is filed amid an alarming trend of elected officials across the United States seeking to censor books and materials in schools and libraries. The number of reported challenges to books doubled from 2021 to 2022. According to PEN America, between July 2021 and June 2022, 41% of banned or challenged titles featured LGBTQ+ themes or characters, 41% included prominent characters of color, and 21% had content on issues of race or racism. Massachusetts is not immune. According to the American Library Association, in 2022, there were 45 attempts to restrict access to books and 57 titles were challenged in those attempts in Massachusetts.
“The Free Expression legislation proposed by Senator Cyr benefits everyone in the Commonwealth,” said Mary Rose Quinn, Head of State Programs and Government Liaison for the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. “By protecting library funding and library staff, it allows librarians to continue to develop collections that meet the diverse needs of the people they serve ensuring their right to read.”
To ensure access to materials in schools is managed responsibly, Cyr’s bill would require that school library materials are selected based on a school librarian’s professional training and not on political or personal views. To overturn a school librarian’s selection determination, the bill would require a review process by the school committee based on clear and convincing evidence that the material is devoid of educational, literary, artistic, or social value or is not age appropriate for any student in the school.
"The Massachusetts School Library Association applauds Senator Cyr's bill,” said Barb Fecteau, President of the Massachusetts School Library Association. “K-12 students have the right to read freely. Licensed school library teachers are trained to acquire materials that represent all of the students they serve. SD2673 will help licensed school library teachers fulfill their professional duties to the students of the Commonwealth."
To prevent the removal of materials based on personal or political beliefs in municipal libraries, the legislation would require libraries to incorporate the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights into their selection policies. Libraries would further be required to publicly post their updated selection policies. The bill would also protect municipal librarians from retaliation when selections are made in good faith and in accordance with the library’s selection policy.
The current movement to ban books with LGBTQ+ themes and characters of color in states across the country parallels a rise in hate crimes and anti-LGBTQ+ policies. Cyr’s legislation continues efforts on Beacon Hill to protect the rights and safety of the Commonwealth’s diverse residents. Cyr is one of ten openly LGBTQ+ state legislators currently serving in the Massachusetts Legislature.
“In the wake of the attempts across the Commonwealth to censor the reading materials in our school libraries, which were selected by trained professionals, MassEquality is delighted to support this bill and grateful for Senator Cyr’s efforts,” said Tanya Neslusan, Executive Director of MassEquality. “It is important that students have access to inclusive books and that professionals trained in the selection of these materials are the arbiters of the decisions about which books are appropriate to have available for our young people.”
Librarians and library advocates applauded the bill.
“This legislation could not come at a better time due to the recent scourge of book challenges and bans across the country,” said Amy Raff, Director of the Provincetown Public Library. “Libraries and librarians are committed to defending the freedom to read and to ensuring the free, direct access to information. We are devoted to supporting the curiosity and inquiry of readers. Reading is one the most important ways that we learn about ourselves and the world around us - it is the place where we see ourselves reflected in characters, where we learn about experiences other than our own - and to take that away is detrimental to a democratic society.”
“Public libraries play a crucial role in communities by fostering intellectual freedom and providing access to information and knowledge,” said Kait Blehm, Chair of the Truro Library Board of Trustees. “This bill is vital in the protections it provides for librarians who uphold these principles everyday in order to ensure that diverse perspectives can be explored without fear of censorship or retaliation.”
Several states have already taken action to ensure politics do not interfere with materials in libraries and schools. Illinois has signed legislation into law that prohibits book bans and similar legislation is being considered in New Jersey.
The legislation now awaits assignment to a committee. Similar legislation has been filed in Massachusetts by state Representative Jim Hawkins (D-Attleboro).