Curriculum

How Florida’s New School Librarian Training Defines Off-Limits Materials

By Eesha Pendharkar — January 19, 2023 3 min read
Books line shelves in a high school library Monday, October 1, 2018, in Brownsville, Texas. The Brownsville Independent School District announced having been awarded a multi-million-dollar grant to revitalize libraries to encourage reading by school-aged children to improve literacy skills. It was stated in the meeting that money could also be used to replace aging furniture in some of the district's libraries.
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School librarians in Florida will soon have to seek parent approval to order new books. They won’t be able to add any instructional materials to classrooms about culturally responsive teaching, social-emotional learning, or social justice. And they will bear the responsibility of defending the educational value of books and instructional materials if anyone objects to them.

That’s all according to a new training released by Florida’s department of education in accordance with a state law passed last year.

The proposed version of the training adds rules for what kinds of books school librarians—typically called media specialists in Florida—can have in school and classroom libraries, what criteria should be used for their selection and removal, and the considerations for responding to book challenges. It’s open to public comment before being finalized.

State education officials developed it along with other stakeholders, including members of the state’s school librarian group, Florida Association of Media in Education, or FAME, and conservative parent groups such as Moms for Liberty.

The proposed version of the training aligns much more closely with what the Moms for Liberty members wanted, according to a statement from the group. Parents can weigh in on book purchases, attend meetings where curation of learning materials is discussed, and if they object to a book, they are not required to explain why it’s offensive or inappropriate.

This version of the training is open to public comment before it can be finalized.

Here are a few key points that the training highlights:

Library books and instructional materials must be free of pornography

The training and the state law that it’s based on both explicitly ban pornography in books and instructional materials. The policy relies on the Merriam-Webster definition of pornography, which is “the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement.”

Calling books that contain LGBTQ characters “pornographic” has been a common argument people who pursue book bans have made over the past year. However, no books in Florida’s public schools have been determined to contain pornography, said Kathleen Daniels, president of FAME.

Librarians also have to make sure a book is not deemed “harmful to minors,” which the training defines as a book which:

  • Predominantly appeals to a prurient, shameful, or morbid interest;
  • Is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable material or conduct for minors; and
  • Taken as a whole, is without serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.

If a book in a school library or one used in curriculum is deemed harmful, librarians and media specialists can be charged with a third-degree felony.

See also

A student browses through books in the Presidio Middle School library in San Francisco, Calif. on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019.
A student browses through books in the Presidio Middle School library in San Francisco, Calif. on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019.
Paul Chinn/San Francisco Chronicle via AP

Library books must avoid indoctrination

One of the factors librarians must consider while curating books for schools is “avoiding unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination.” The training does not define indoctrination, but the voiceover accompanying the training video offers some examples of what can count. “Critical Race Theory, culturally responsive teaching, social justice, social and emotional learning, and any other unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination are prohibited,” the voiceover says.

Librarians are not allowed to add instructional materials that contain any of these theories to classrooms.

Suitable to student needs

Another requirement of the new law and training is that librarians stock books that are age appropriate, and meet students’ needs. For library books and instructional materials, the training says that those considerations include:

  • Student ability to comprehend material;
  • The degree to which the material will be explained/supplemented by classroom instruction;
  • The educational purpose of the material;
  • The accurate portrayal of Florida’s broad racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and cultural diversity, without bias or indoctrination;
  • Age and grade level of students; and
  • Maturity of students.

Media specialists should always “err on the side of caution while selecting materials,” according to the training.

“It is good practice to assess whether or not you as an adult making book selection decisions will be comfortable reading aloud the material in question in a public meeting,” the training says. “If you would not be comfortable reading the material in a public setting, then you should lean towards not making the material available in a public school library for children.”

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