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An Oklahoma lawmaker just compared librarians to cockroaches. It’s as bad as it sounds.

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March 23, 2022, 2:51pm

The wave of book bans and paranoia that books “corrupt” American kids is not slowing down—and neither is bad-faith engagement with librarians. A bill just passed the Oklahoma House that would require school librarians to turn over minors’ checkout records to their parents, regardless of context; when defending the bill, co-author Oklahoma State Representative Sherrie Conley (R-Newcastle) compared librarians to cockroaches.

This bill is HB4014, a parents’ rights bill (said Conley, parents’ rights have “been given to us by not just the Parents Rights Act for the state of Oklahoma, but also by our Lord and savior simply through birth”) trying to stop students from reading “graphic” materials. State representatives against the bill argued that the bill can erode trust in public schools and give abusive parents further control of their children.

On the House floor, Conley accused Stillwater Public Schools librarians of withholding a student’s library checkout records from their parents. (Stillwater Spokesman Barry Fuxa wrote in an email that “district admins have not received any comments or complaints about any alleged denial of access to a student’s library records, prior to hearing about this clip,” and the school district says it would “release those records to parents/guardians upon request as appropriate.”)

Here’s how that accusation—and the “cockroaches” comment—happened:

CONLEY: I’m so encouraged that parents are concerned about what their children are consuming and I would hope this would encourage children to pay more attention in the future.

MERLEYN BELL (D-Norman): Representative, I’m just curious because I heard you mention before that this isn’t an issue in our public libraries or publicly funded libraries, except for perhaps in a school or a particular school district—I’m wondering if you can tell the body what school district that is?

CONLEY: [pause] Thank you for the question. Stillwater.

BELL: Thank you, Madame Speaker, and how many school districts do we have total in the state?

CONLEY: 521, maybe? I don’t know, it seems like the number changes.

BELL: So we’re talking about something that may have happened to one or a small group of parents, in terms of the denial that you’re taking about, in one out of five hundred plus school districts across the state?

CONLEY: What I would say about that is, you may only see one cockroach in your kitchen but that doesn’t mean there’s only one there. [mimics mic drop]

Let’s unpack this: Conley is using the cockroach analogy to imply that there are many more librarians, just out of sight, hiding students’ library records from their parents. Firstly, librarians = cockroaches is obviously not a flattering comparison; we want to eradicate cockroaches. Cockroaches also carry a strong association of disgust—for librarians hiding kids’ records to be cockroaches strongly implies that they’re creepy, essentially, perverts who want to mess with your kid.

For Conley’s analogy, and her rhetoric, uses the fearmongering premise that school libraries are sites of explicit, dangerous content—and that librarians facilitate that, rather than curate school libraries and help children. In Conley’s portrayal, librarians are parents’ enemy. It may sound reasonable to want to protect children from dangerous, scarring books (we won’t get into children’s rights here), but when you take the bill in its national context—amid a wave of book bans and educational gag orders targeting books covering American history, race, LGBTQ+ issues, and sex education—it’s evident what types of books these lawmakers think children need to be protected from. In fact, in Oklahoma, Senate Bill 1142—which has passed through the Senate Education Committee would ban all books from school libraries that focus on “the study of sex, sexual lifestyles, or sexual activity,” while forcing school libraries to remove controversial books if a parent complains and letting parents seek penalties of $10,000 from noncompliant districts. See the connection?

HB4014 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives 81-13, and the legislation now proceeds. to the Oklahoma Senate. Here is a video of Representative Conley claiming that Star Wars is purposefully injecting “alternative lifestyles” into movies as part of the gay agenda.

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