If you spend any time on Library Twitter recently (and other places like Facebook and IG and even Mastodon) you’ve doubtless seen the countless stories of attempted book bans, harassment, and doxxing happening to public and school libraries this past year. It is undoubtedly a scary time to be a school or public librarian right now as the far right attempts to enforce their ideology in the public sphere and uses libraries as the nexus of the culture war. They are attempting to erase BIPOC, disabled, and LGBTQ folks by censoring our books and banning our stories, which is all part of their attempt to ban us from public life and existence. They rally around a cry to “protect the children!” (as Michael Hobbes and Sarah Marshall often say, a sure sign you are in the middle of a moral panic) but they don’t mean kids of color or queer kids or disabled kids. They don’t mean my kid who is white cis and straight (presumably) but has loved ones who are not and who he deserves to see in his books. They don’t mean any kid who is not American Christian. All of which kids deserve access to literature that reflects them, reflects other points of view, and shows them a wider world than the far right wants to admit exists.
All this is well-documented around the country, nobody is being quiet about this. But it leaves me wondering: are academic libraries and librarians next? We don’t get swept up in the “think of the children!!” nonsense because our user-base is almost entirely (nominally) adults of college age or older. But that doesn’t mean we can’t. Parents, particularly the brand of controlling parents you find in right wing extremist households, are often still closely involved with their children’s education in college. They are often attempting to control their children through financial means, paying their tuition and living expenses. This control doesn’t work very well, and the panic caused by slipping control could very well turn to attempting to control the environment their children are in, i.e. campus life. In many places, including my state of Florida, there is already significant conservative control over public college campuses, through partisan Boards of Governors and legislative action. But what if they start trying for more direct control, trying to tell us what we can teach and what materials we can keep in our libraries and archives?
In fact, in Florida, there are already attempts to control public college campuses, through laws like HB7 which ban the teaching of certain concepts in vague terms that can be used to target anyone they deem a liability. My library has an extremely strong book withdrawal request policy, which basically boils down to “You can ask but you’re not going to get anywhere because this is a research library and we do research on all subjects here so just deal with it” only in nicer language. This is comforting, but what if our Dean begins to face pressure from the governing bodies to change that policy? Or to go around it by removing certain titles? I have faith in our Dean to stand up to such challenges, and she is a formidable defense against this kind of thing. But she can still be outnumbered and overruled by the people who wield the most power over the University, the DeathSantis-controlled Board of Governors and Board of Trustees. But maybe they won’t start at the flagship university, UF, and tip their hand. Maybe they’ll start at a smaller university in a more conservative area, like University of North Florida.
So far as I’ve seen, and according to the ALA, college libraries have largely been overlooked by those battling for the soul of libraries currently, but I’m concerned about how long that will last. I am an outspoken queer librarian, talking on social media about queer and bipoc books I’ve ordered, posting on my branch’s social media about the new diverse books that get added to the collection, and generally advocating for library freedom. I’m most assuredly not the only one in my institution, my state, or in the field of academic libraries. In fact, there are a lot of us. Are we about to start facing harassment, doxing, and pressure by legislators to hide away or eliminate our diverse books? I certainly don’t think it’s outside of the realm of possibility. After all, people like this are never satisfied with one target. Once they’ve driven out all the bravely outspoken public and school librarians, where will they turn next in their quest to eliminate us?