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.
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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.

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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.

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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.


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