Tennessee legislators address teacher concerns over library cataloging bill

The bill requires teachers to catalog the books in their libraries, and it’s causing some confusion and limiting student access to books.
FILE(Don Frazier/KFVS)
Published: Aug. 23, 2022 at 11:48 AM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Some Tennessee teachers are voicing concerns after the state passed a bill requiring educators to provide a list of all reading materials in school and classroom libraries.

The move stems from the “Age-Appropriate Materials Act,” a bill that requires teachers and schools to provide parents and guardians with a list of reading materials their students have access to.

Some teachers have voiced concerns about the bill, including Murfreesboro City Schools teacher Sydney Rawls, who posted a video to TikTok saying she was spending her Saturday listing books in order to give her students access to her classroom library.

“The kids in here are asking me ‘can I get a book and read?’” Rawls said in the video. “They are so excited, and I have to say ‘no, you can’t because I haven’t had a chance to go through all of them.’ To catalog them, to write them all down to send off to someone who is going to tell me if they can or cannot read the books in my classroom library.”

WVLT News spoke to Tennessee Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) about Rawls’ concerns, and he said her issue stems from misinformation.

“I don’t know where that came from and I did confirm with the Department of Education that that is not in the legislation,” Zachary said. “There is no ‘you have to close your library.”

The bill outlines a “start date” for when teachers need to begin the process of listing their books: the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year. However, there is no deadline for when teachers need to be done cataloging. According to Zachary, no teacher needs to close their library or rush to catalog their books so their students can read.

That being said, the misinformation and communication issues are causing more work for teachers and keeping some students from books. Tennessee Rep. Gloria Johnson (D- Knoxville) spoke on Twitter about the legislation, pointing out that teachers have shut off access to books because of the bill.

Zachary said that point of the bill is to act like a movie rating- he and his collogues who voted for it wanted to give parents access to more information about what their students have access to, not work to limit reading. Zachary did say however, that the confusion surrounding the bill’s power over closing classroom libraries and deadline for cataloging books is a problem.

“I did ask the Department of Education about the ‘end date,’” Zachary said, “and they said they are working on clarifying that, because they need to clarify that.”

However, the bill could mean other changes for schools. While Zachary said it is not the bill’s goal to ban books, it could play a role in removing some materials from libraries. Part of the bill states that school governing bodies, like boards of education, are required to evaluate feedback from students, parents and guardians and school employees about books to ensure they’re appropriate.

The text of the bill states “if the material is not appropriate, then the school must remove the material from the library collection.” That means that, should a local board of education decide a book is not appropriate for students, they could have it removed from classrooms and libraries.

Ultimately, districts need time to figure out how to implement the new policy. WVLT News spoke to a spokesperson for Jefferson County Schools, who said the district needs that time to work out specifics.

“The law is so new the district is trying to develop a plan so each teacher is on the same page,” they said.