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AGAWAM — At a legislative breakfast Feb. 16, library advocates told local legislators to prioritize funding libraries and promoted legislation tackling book bans and eBook/audiobook  publishing practices.

“Legislators please, I hope you will make library funding a priority,” said Vicky Biancolo, vice chair of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

The breakfast was attended by state Sen. John Velis (D-Westfield), state Rep. Daniel Carey (D-Easthampton) and state Rep. Nicholas Boldyga (R-Southwick), as well as Agawam city councilors and Mayor Christopher Johnson.

Speaking to this audience, Biancolo stressed funding the Massachusetts Center for the Book, the MBLC, and continuing direct aid to public libraries. She and Courtney Andree, executive director of the Massachusetts Center for the Book, highlighted the organization’s family literacy program in gateway cities.

Biancolo said funds for the MBLC go to employees working with libraries on construction, electronic content, book challenges, grants and citizenship classes, among other things. Funds to local libraries, she said, go to things like inter-library loans. These allow readers to check out books from other libraries, meaning their library doesn’t need to purchase it themselves.

“It directly saves communities money,” said Biancolo.

On legislation, Biancolo promoted two “freedom to read” bills sponsored by state Sen. Jacob Oliveira (D-Ludlow) and state Rep. Aaron Saunders (D-Belchertown). The bills, said Rob Favini of the MBLC, would set up a fund for libraries to tackle book challenges and protect school librarians from harassment, suspension, or negative job appraisal due to book challenges.

Biancolo said book challenges have increased since last year, and school librarians have faced harassment on social media, by email, and in-person over a book in their libraries. She noted an incident in December 2023 where a police officer searched a Great Barrington high school classroom for copies of the book “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe. Biancolo said parents do not have the right to surveil the media habits of other people’s children.

“Banning books is not about protecting children,” she said. “These attempts to ban books are skirmishes in a war over the very foundational ideas of our country.”

Biancolo also promoted legislation tackling “predatory pricing.” Libraries, she said, need to go through special retailers in order to buy licenses for eBooks and audiobooks. The library doesn’t actually own them and licenses expire after a certain amount of time. Prices for these licenses can be hefty. For a Stephen King book that costs $14.99 to purchase in print, a library needs to spend $130 for a two-year license, she said. The legislation to regulate pricing is sponsored by state Rep. Ruth Balser (D-Newton).

Legislators at the breakfast affirmed their support for local libraries. Boldyga said the state could do better with how much it budgets for libraries. He said he will always say “yes” for funding requests, as he believes libraries are “the cornerstone of any civilization.” He pointed to a poster that said that learning liberated more people than any war in history, and said it was true.

“Thank you for all that you do,” he said. “Continue to support our libraries and I’m going to support you.”

Carey said libraries help people with disabilities, people who struggle with technology, people learning how to read, English language learners, and refugees, among others. They do so much, he said, without receiving much thanks for it.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he said. “We’ll keep doing what we can do on the state level to support you.”

Velis said that libraries offer a sense of community. He said bringing people together helps combat the mental health crisis and nobody does that better than libraries. He also praised the library advocates for their commentary on the freedom to read bills.

“In 2024, who thought we’d be having a conversation about the right to read, what you can read,” he said. “That is insanity at the most fundamental level.”

tlederer@thereminder.com | + posts