Madison Markham contributed research to this blog. 

As book bans surge across public schools and public libraries, state legislative tactics meant to intimidate librarians are a growing cause for alarm.

The latest threat is emerging in Louisiana. In late March, state legislators introduced HB 777, a bill that would criminalize the use of public funds, by institutions or by individual public employees, “to or with” the American Library Association (ALA). Under the bill, were a Louisiana librarian to attend a conference cosponsored by the ALA, they could be fined $1,000 and/or incarcerated for up to two years. The sweeping bill would disrupt librarianship by prohibiting individuals and groups from participating with the country’s main professional association for librarians, diminishing the quality of public libraries.

In order to grasp the magnitude of this proposal, it is important to understand the movement to attack the autonomy of public libraries, as well as how the ALA serves the librarian profession.

The ALA is the largest professional organization for librarians in the United States and serves as the primary accrediting body for graduate programs in library science. The organization creates and maintains best practices for how libraries ought to be run, and members pay dues in order to benefit from continuing education, programming, and the legitimacy that comes along with professional affiliation. In this way, the organization seeks to promote not only robust professional standards for librarians, but also libraries themselves. 

That mission is the sticking point for opponents of the freedom to read. Since 2021, state legislators have experimented with new ways to undermine public libraries, including by attacking the legitimacy of the profession of librarianship. These attacks have frequently been accompanied by rhetoric claiming that the ALA or similar state-based library associations have been captured by “woke ideology” and “Marxism” – rhetoric that should be familiar to anyone who follows school book bans. In reality, these bills are not really about the nonpartisan association itself, or about the allegations about its politics. They are about destabilizing librarianship as a profession, and libraries as a public resource. 

Anti-ALA bills, like Louisiana’s HB 777, have been introduced in several states this year, including Alabama, Georgia, and Oklahoma. And they come alongside other legislative attacks on librarians, like in the form of laws like Montana’s HB 234, which added new criminal penalties for librarians who distribute “obscene” material to minors. Together, these laws reflect a climate in which libraries and librarians are under increasing attack, as part of a campaign that could have long-term impacts on libraries as democratic institutions. 

The motivation in each state appears to be the same: to create an emaciated public library system, and diminish access to information and ideas for broad swaths of the country that depend on libraries as spaces to read, think, work, and create.