Parent: Trust librarians, not politicians, with book decisions for kids

A child has a bird's-eye seat reading a book at the main branch of the Athens-Clarke County Library. (Courtesy of Molly Pratt)

Credit: Molly Pratt

Credit: Molly Pratt

A child has a bird's-eye seat reading a book at the main branch of the Athens-Clarke County Library. (Courtesy of Molly Pratt)

Athens parent Sarah Baugh writes about her strong opposition to bill in the state Legislature she believes would limit the ability of librarians to do their job.

By Sarah Baugh

Parents need to know the Georgia Legislature is considering a bill that would deeply harm our public and school libraries and their ability to do their vital work building literacy in our communities.

Georgia’s libraries are locally led and governed by people we know and trust. Our libraries work so hard to provide high-quality media and access to services that are essential to our community, all so that parents have the ability to choose for themselves what is right for their families. Our librarians live in our communities, and their choices of media and program offerings reflect this. Our boards of trustees live and work in our communities, and their oversight ensures that the needs and values of the community are being upheld.

Senate Bill 390 would abolish the state board for the certification of librarians, eliminate the requirement that public library directors hold state certification and remove national accreditation from Valdosta State University’s master’s in library science and School Library Media Specialist degree programs. Like so many other professions, certification helps Georgia maintain high standards in library service.

As a parent and public library card holder, I depend on library resources to meet my family’s lifelong learning needs. We need to be able to trust the directors in charge of these precious commodities are experts in their fields, with years of education, knowledge and experience.

I am the proud mother of two daughters, ages 18 and 11, who have known and loved Georgia libraries their entire lives. Both girls began visiting the public library as babies with infant story time, listening to a children’s librarian sing, tell stories and read books intended to strengthen developmental milestones. Story times acted as waypoints during the early months of sleepless nights and exhaustion — bringing us together so we parents could look at each other with bleary eyes and know we weren’t alone.

As they grew into toddlers, they attended programming featuring music, puppet shows, sensory play, books, and craft activities, the room filled with busy little bodies delighting in the joy that comes from learning through play. As young children, they learned to play ukulele and to read music. They attended Halloween trick-or-treat events, animal encounters, and moved up the ladder in summer reading challenges. These programs rooted a deep love of reading in my children. These programs were free, open to the public, and always carefully designed for the enrichment of all of the children by certified librarians. What a gift.

Sarah Baugh

Credit: Contributed

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Credit: Contributed

The even greater gift has come from the way my daughters have interacted with both public and school libraries as they’ve grown. I’ve been entrusted with being mother to a daughter I gave birth to and to one I didn’t. I am white, my younger daughter is a Black adoptee, and being her mom requires much more care and thought than I ever could have envisioned. Finding quality books on the shelves with Black main characters and families that reflect our own has been invaluable.

Countless times I have come to the library desk with my daughters to ask for recommendations or find a book to deal with something I never could have imagined being faced with. One hundred percent of the time, I have been met with an agenda-free, well-researched answer thanks to my local library. Librarians have gone above and beyond to find us excellent books to meet those needs, and I knew each time I would get the help I asked for. This is because library materials are selected by trained professionals, guided by local policies and local governing boards.

My children are mine to shepherd through the world, but they are their own people. We allowed them to choose books for themselves, but I would be orbiting around them, as required by library rules (no unattended children under the age of 12). If they chose books that I felt weren’t right for them, I simply placed them back on the reshelving carts.

The presence of media in the library that wasn’t interesting or appropriate to my children — or even that I disliked or disagreed with personally — didn’t cause me alarm. I knew that libraries are for everyone, and these big beautiful storehouses of information are meant for all of us, not just people who look like me or think like me.

My eldest daughter is now a high school senior, and she loves to read. She is funny, smart and deeply compassionate. This is in no small part because of books and the expert guides she had when she was looking for them. The teen programming at our public and school libraries led her through that time when teens start to turn away from reading for fun. Librarians helped keep her reading by offering engaging material, incentivizing reading (no teen can resist snacks), author visits, and offering suggestions that met her where she was.

Led by certified professional library directors, libraries are a haven for kids who don’t always fit in, even kids who might be in real danger without a welcoming place to go. I still think about how my awkward 13-year-old daughter could feel comfortable sitting on the floor in elf ears making a dragon terrarium, all thanks to our local libraries.

I know that as parents we want to protect our children from harm. I parent in community with my family and friends but also with the experts that I depend on. My children’s pediatrician and I might not have enough in common to be friends in the outside world, but I know for certain that he is up to date on the best practices to take care of my children and help me to make informed decisions about their health.

In the same way, in every library in Georgia I’ve ever stepped foot in, I’ve known that I am coming into a place where the sharing of knowledge is a sacred calling. If it were up to some of our legislators and the loud minority of voices, my own family would fall into the category of subject matter that should be kept off the shelves. Imagine if some beautiful part of what makes your child special were considered too dangerous to be in a book on a library shelf. Imagine the harm.

This responsibility is so big, and we should leave it in the hands of professionals — the trained staff working in public libraries. Georgians need to band together in support of the librarians who have given us so much. Let the experts do their jobs. Say no to SB 390.