Families & the Community

Parents Trust School Librarians to Select Books, But There’s a Catch

A new survey captures parents’ attitudes about school libraries following pushes across the country to remove books
By Libby Stanford — January 16, 2024 5 min read
Books sit in a cart and on shelves in an elementary school library in suburban Atlanta on Aug. 18, 2023.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A large majority of parents trust school librarians to choose appropriate books for the collections they oversee and to recommend age-appropriate materials to children. Over 60 percent of parents also say that outright book bans infringe on their rights to make decisions for their children.

At the same time, most parents think school libraries should require parent permission before children check out certain books, and that there should be age restrictions on certain materials. In addition, a not-insignificant portion of parents think school librarians should face criminal consequences for granting children access to certain content.

That’s according to a new national survey on parent attitudes toward school libraries. The results paint a nuanced picture of how parents regard school libraries after pushes to remove books about racism, gender identity, and sexuality from school libraries in the name of parents’ rights have dominated some school board agendas in recent years and captured national attention.

“The claim by a lot of book ban groups and censorship groups and folks that are advancing this framework is that there’s a parental rights, parental control, parental concern [issue] here,” said John Chrastka, the executive director of the nonprofit EveryLibrary Institute, which advocates for public funding for libraries. It conducted the survey in partnership with BookRiot, a media outlet that covers books and related issues. “We wanted to see if it was true or not.”

The survey, which was conducted in December and included responses from a nationally representative sample of 616 parents and guardians with children in prekindergarten through high school, found that 82 percent of parents trust school librarians to recommend age-appropriate books for their children, and 80 percent trust librarians to select appropriate materials for school libraries.

The majority of respondents—86 percent—also said that their child has never checked out a book that made them uncomfortable, and 85 percent said their child has never checked out a book that made the child uncomfortable.

“Very few people have a true level of distrust” of school librarians, Chrastka said. “The school librarians in our communities, and other educators, should take heart that when asked and when challenged by a question like this, folks say, ‘no, I really do believe in and trust the educators and school librarians to make good choices.’”

However, the survey also revealed that some parents would like to see school library operations subjected to more regulation.

Some parents want librarians to face prosecution

Sixteen percent of the respondents said they believe school librarians should “be arrested” for giving children access to certain books. In a similar EveryLibrary and Book Riot survey conducted in September 2023, 25 percent of respondents said they believe librarians should “be prosecuted” for allowing children to access certain books.

Lawmakers in a handful of states, including Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Montana, and North Dakota, have passed bills that would make jail time a real consequence for librarians who lend students books considered sexually explicit, obscene, or harmful, according to EveryLibrary. Governors in Idaho and North Dakota successfully vetoed those bills, and a judge has temporarily blocked Arkansas from enforcing its law after a group of libraries, librarians, bookstores, and publishing groups claimed it violates the First Amendment in a lawsuit.

See Also

Photo of librarian pushing book cart.
Wavebreak Media / Getty Images Plus

Even though the parents who think librarians should face jail time for showing certain books to kids are in the minority, the fact that a significant number of parents hold that view at all is concerning, Chrastka said.

“We have a culture in this country right now where politicians, elected officials, leaders in the community are saying that our educators are somehow engaged in criminal behavior,” he said.

A greater proportion of parents said they would like to see less extreme restrictions placed on school libraries.

Sixty percent said school libraries should restrict access to books by age or require parental permission for students to check out a book, and 57 percent said parents should receive notifications when their child checks out a book.

Over half of respondents also said that parents should be able to opt their child out of accessing the school library, and 38 percent would like to see schools require that parents sign a permission slip before their children can access the school library.

Parents say book bans infringe on their rights, but some would request them

Although the majority of parents felt that book bans infringe on their rights, one-third of survey respondents said they would ask that a book be removed from a school library if it made them or their child feel uncomfortable.

Parents were the most uncomfortable with children’s books about “LGBTQ+ characters and themes,” with 37 percent saying they were “not comfortable” with that topic. Twenty-five percent of respondents said they weren’t comfortable with children’s books about puberty and sexual education; 20 percent said they weren’t comfortable with books for children about race and racism; and 16 percent said they weren’t comfortable with children’s books about social justice.

See Also

Shelley Ward
Shelley Ward, a teacher-librarian at the Charleston County’s Belle Hall Elementary School, assists a student. While teaching, she earned her master’s level school librarian certification through the district’s "grow-your-own" partnership with the University of South Carolina.
Photo courtesy of the Charleston County School District

“Parents in school library settings are much more comfortable with books about social justice, books about puberty and sex ed than they are if you say the letters LGBTQ or if you say, ‘books about race and racism,’” Chrastka said, adding that LGBTQ+ themes and discussions of race and racism are often included in social justice and sex education materials.

The results suggest that schools can do more to counteract narratives about explicit and inappropriate material being shown to students at school and to educate parents about how school libraries work, Chrastka said.

In the survey, 81 percent of parents said they don’t know how librarians decide which books should be included in a school library’s collection, and 55 percent said they have never met their child’s school librarian.

Events

Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Science of Reading: Emphasis on Language Comprehension
Dive into language comprehension through a breakdown of the Science of Reading with an interactive demonstration.
Content provided by Be GLAD
English-Language Learners Webinar English Learners and the Science of Reading: What Works in the Classroom
ELs & emergent bilinguals deserve the best reading instruction! The Reading League & NCEL join forces on best practices. Learn more in our webinar with both organizations.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Families & the Community Leader To Learn From Absenteeism Was a Big Problem in This District. A New Strategy Is Getting Results
Sharon Bradley remembers how it felt to miss school for reasons outside her control.
11 min read
Sharon Bradley, director of student, family and community services for Plano ISD, listens to members of the Character, Attendance, and Restorative Education (CARE) team discuss their current projects in Plano, Texas, on Dec. 14, 2023. The CARE department focuses on equipping students and adults with the tools, strategies, and resources that support a safe, engaging, and collaborative learning environment through character education, attendance recovery, and restorative practices.
Sharon Bradley, the director of student, family, and community services for the Plano, Texas, school district listens to staff members on a special team that focuses on helping students and their families address a range of challenges that may get in the way of regular attendance and engagement at school.
Shelby Tauber for Education Week
Families & the Community Leader To Learn From A Former Teacher Turns Classroom Prowess Into Partnerships With Families
Ana Pasarella maximizes her community's assets to put students first.
8 min read
Ana Pasarella, the director of family and community engagement for Alvin ISD, oversees an activity as Micaela Leon, 3, a student in Alvin ISD’s READy Program, draws on a piece of paper on Alvin ISD’s STEM bus in Manvel, Texas, on Dec. 8, 2023.
Ana Pasarella, the director of family and community engagement for the Alvin Independent school district in Texas, oversees an activity as Micaela Leon, 3, a student in the district's READy Program, draws on a piece of paper inside the district's STEM bus in Manvel, Texas.
Callaghan O’Hare for Education Week
Families & the Community A Side Effect of Anti-CRT Campaigns? Reduced Trust in Local Schools
The calls to ban CRT had little evidence behind them, but they were powerful enough to change people's perceptions of their local schools.
6 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis publicly signs HB7, "individual freedom," also dubbed the "stop woke" bill during a news conference at Mater Academy Charter Middle/High School in Hialeah Gardens, Fla., on Friday, April 22, 2022.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs HB7, the Individual Freedom Act, also dubbed the Stop WOKE Act, during a news conference at Mater Academy Charter Middle/High School in Hialeah Gardens, Fla., on Friday, April 22, 2022. The bill is intended to prohibit the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 schools. New research finds that the public calls for bans on the instruction of critical race theory diminished the general public's trust in local schools and teachers.
Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald via AP
Families & the Community Opinion I Thought I Knew Parent-Teacher Conferences. Then My Own Child Started School
Parent-teacher conferences are a different experience from the other side of the table, writes one experienced educator.
Marissa McCue Armitage
4 min read
Hands holding red circle. Sensing energy between palms. Concept of human relation, togetherness, partnership, connection, contact or network
iStock/Getty + Education Week