“But I know it when I see it.”
This phrase is famous and is a quote by United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart. Stewart gave an opinion on an obscenity case in the 1964 Jacobellis v. Ohio. In the 1973 Miller v. California case, Chief Justice Warren Burger created guidelines that came to be known as The Miller Test. This test, though still subjective, provides us with much more guidance than mere intuition.
I am mentioning this nearly fifty-year-old case because the Legislator in my state includes the word “school libraries” in House Bill 1944.
SUMMARY OF BILL: Prohibits local education agencies (LEA) or public schools from making obscene materials or materials harmful to minors available to students in the school libraries controlled by the LEA or public school. Excludes LEAs, public schools, and employees, and private contractors of LEAs or public schools from the exception to the offense of obscenity if the LEA, public school, employee, or private contractor possesses obscene material that is harmful to minors on public school premises.
Who decides if a book is obscene and harmful to minors?
This question is a critical point. [Especially when the punishment can include a $50,000 fine.] Is it the country music artist who speaks with the governor? Or will it be the pastor who hosts a book burning? Currently, the school boards have removed the books Maus and Walk Two Moons from the curriculum in Tennessee counties. School boards are receiving reconsideration requests repeatedly and many times from people who are not even parents of students at the schools in question.
What can we do?
This type of book banning may have already hit your state or could be on its way. Therefore, it is essential to watch your state library association and state school library association updates. If bills that threaten intellectual freedom come up, write your representatives. Another good idea is to attend state legislative days.
But I believe the best way to succeed is to develop parents as allies. Growing community at the local level can be a strong defense, and those stakeholders will help you in the struggle against outside groups. Finally, for help from AASL and ALA read The American Library Association opposes widespread efforts to censor books in U.S. schools and libraries.
Author: Hannah Byrd Little
Hello, I am the Library Director at The Webb School of Bell Buckle. I use my past experience in college and university libraries to help my current students in school libraries transition into college, career, and life. I am currently the lead Senior Class Adviser for the Capstone Project. I also served at the state level with the Tennessee Association of School Librarians executive board from 2009-2013 and was the TASL president in 2012. I am certified as a Library Information Specialist for PreK-12th grade, have a BS in Communications with a concentration in Advertising and Public Relations, a BS in Liberal Studies with a concentration in Education and Information Systems and a Masters in Library and Information Science.