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Following a Huge Backlash, Follett Reverses Course on Module to Sort Banned Books

Library management software now under review by lawmakers.

Gaston from Beauty and the Beast upsetti because the book has no pictures. Gaston is a bully and anti reading.

On March 30th, 2022, librarians and educators went online to ask if anyone else saw the bizarre email from Follett, an “educational products, services, and technology” company. I became aware of it as a scandalous college bookstore chain first, so seeing public librarians discuss the company gave me a reason to pause.

The letter from Follett CEOs Britten Follett and Paul Ilse began by stressing Follett’s support of librarians and organizations like the American Library Association (ALA). Still, it quickly devolved as they introduced the rollout of a new program that would allow districts and librarians to manage materials accessible to individual students. The letter ended with a link for a now-canceled webchat with B. Follett and Ilse to discuss the program.

This announcement comes at a time of nationwide book censorship in schools and public libraries. Follett spoke with concerned parents in Georgia at the start of March, where they revealed some ideas about how to accommodate conservative backlash. Some solutions included a notification email (from Follett’s collections management software Destiny) for parents when children checked out certain books or a block on childrens’ accounts when they attempted to check them out at a self-checkout kiosk. These could be tagged words like “LGBTQ,” “Black history,” etc. This Georgia district (in Forsyth County) is also looking to turn to Amazon reviews for reviewing reported materials because apparently, professional reviewers (including trained educators) aren’t enough.

Because Forsyth County News published that Follett spoke with district officials and parents over three weeks before this announcement, the Georgia article circulated quickly. Instead of hypothesizing how some would weaponize this against educators and librarians (both trained to review materials), they learned what Follett was considering. While Follett claimed the module was “optional” for librarians to use, once the program went live, nothing’s stopping well-funded parent groups like No Left Turns or Mom’s For Liberty-instructed parents on how to force schools to use these programs. Administrators and school boards would implement them proactively to stave off fines, jail time, and other punishments now codified into their state laws the last year.

Swift backlash

Many began sharing the link with advocates, parents, authors, and educators to help get the word out. In addition to the mass sign-up to the Follett web chat, some people created and signed petitions demanding that Follett drop the module or else their libraries would cancel contracts. One petition with over 400 names (including job position and state) took it further by stating, “This includes boycotting products and services affiliated with Francisco Partners, including Renaissance Learning, MyON, Mystery Science, Freckle Education, VitalSource Technologies, and Discovery Education.”

The ALA’s name was also rightfully dragged around because they did not speak publically about this issue. This Follett news unfolded via email and social media the week before National Library Week. The ALA focused on library week and ALA elections instead. Follett often sponsors booths at the ALA Annual Conference.

Later, B. Follett would tell the School Library Journal that despite conversations online, the Georgia inquiry didn’t start this. She said districts in Florida approached them because the Parents Rights in Education Law takes effect July 1. Questions from Texas and Georgia followed later. Regardless, the intention is still the same.

Follett reverses course for now.

By Friday, April 1, Follett announced that following discussions with librarians and industry partners (vague but okay), they were pausing this rollout and canceling April 4’s webinar.

While Follett decided to (at least for now) not pursue this module, B. Follett said she was “disappointed” regarding the Twitter discourse about the module and her company. “Frustrated” is understandable because her company is between a rock and a hard place financially (not morally). However, what exactly is disappointing about people speaking up and organizing against your company’s policies that disenfranchise vulnerable readers, educators, and librarians?

Like any large company or institution, we need to look at the crux of what they’re saying. Follett did not say they are canceling this venture. Instead, they used language like “we will NOT proceed with any plans to develop this module.” The only thing outright canceled officially was the webchat. Without vigilance, this company can and likely will move forward if it affects their bottom line or their ability to do business.

(via Twitter, image: Disney.)

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(she/her) Award-winning artist and blogger with experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time watching movies, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Balder's Gate 3, Apex Legends, and CS:GO.