Connecticut Bill Offers State Grants to “Sanctuary Libraries”

Connecticut's Senate Bill 2, “An Act Concerning The Mental, Physical And Emotional Wellness of Children,” would, among many other things, allow every Connecticut municipality to designate a single sanctuary library—a place where patrons are promised access to books banned or challenged elsewhere.

Connecticut Capitol buildingConnecticut State Sen. Ceci Maher was glad she made the guest list on January 9 when Ferguson Library in Stamford proudly rolled out its status as the state’s first “sanctuary library.”

Ferguson followed Chicago Public Library’s lead in becoming the nation’s second sanctuary library, a place where patrons are promised access to books banned or challenged elsewhere. Library board members, Stamford’s mayor, and the school district superintendent also attended in a very deliberate show of solidarity.

Nine days later, in Darien, Maher and four of her fellow legislators attended a meet-and-greet sponsored by the Connecticut Library Association (CLA). There, library officials talked about significant areas of concern; book challenges were, unsurprisingly, on that list. Maher, chair of the Connecticut General Assembly’s Committee on Children, decided that this was the opportunity to seize the moment by writing intellectual freedom protections into law.

By February 15, her committee finished drafting Senate Bill 2, “An Act Concerning The Mental, Physical And Emotional Wellness Of Children”—legislation that, among many other things, lets every Connecticut municipality designate a single sanctuary library that “makes available and lends any book that has been banned, censored, or challenged by a person, organization and entity.”

More than six of the bill’s 22 pages deal with libraries. The rest covers areas such as school behavioral health, early childhood intervention, creation of a task force to study the needs of children, and more general health care for youth.

S.B. 2 also offers base grants—$1,200 each—for any libraries that become book sanctuaries. Maher said the bill demonstrates state support for libraries at a time when many are coping with disruptive book challenges. “Knowing that children will have access to books is incredibly important,” she told Library Journal. “Making sure that libraries are open to all, and that librarians are treated as the professionals they are, is also incredibly important.”

“They heard what we were saying and understood who was being impacted by it, and then took action,” said Alice Knapp, director of the Ferguson Library. “Now we have the state saying, ‘we support you.’”

“Everybody was surprised,” added CLA President Douglas Lord. “Nobody knew this was even a thing until mid-February. It was a happy surprise, but a complete surprise.”

The bill was voted out of committee on March 1 by a 13–6 margin. It has been referred to the Connecticut General Assembly’s Office of Legislative Research and Office of Fiscal Analysis.



The bill’s language on sanctuary libraries is so new, in fact, that library officials interviewed admitted they don’t really know how these libraries will work in practice. Last September, Chicago Public Library established book sanctuaries across 77 neighborhoods and 81 library branches. Its stated goal was to expand access to banned or challenged books.

In Connecticut, Senate Bill 2 will now wend its way through the legislative process, Maher said, before hopefully reaching a full state Senate vote, perhaps in May. Henry Chisholm, an aide to Maher, said the bill is “priority” legislation sponsored by the Senate Democratic Caucus and introduced by the Committee on Children. Similar bills have been adopted in past years, but library officials said it’s the first time one has included libraries.

There was backlash along partisan lines as the bill was debated in committee. Republican Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco told LJ, “The state is forcing local libraries to become ‘sanctuaries’ in order to receive grant funds, which I do not agree with. Once again, the state is picking winners and losers.” 

That a bill addressing children’s mental health and wellness included libraries was seen as important progress for officials in that profession. “I applaud the lawmakers who really are recognizing that public libraries serve in that capacity,” said Fairfield town librarian Scott Jarzombek.

The Children’s Committee held a February 24 public hearing on the bill, and library officials testified on its behalf. Some faced pointed questioning from Republicans, who asked what guardrails were in place to stop young patrons from checking out potentially inappropriate material.

Following testimony from Jarzombek, Mastrofrancesco said it was “outrageous” that a 12-year-old patron was allowed to borrow a book that contains sexually explicit material. Rep. Anne Dauphinais, a Republican, told Jarzombek she had concerns about how books with explicit content were displayed in libraries.

Jarzombek said he welcomed “a healthy conversation with the community” on material that parents or others deem problematic. But he stressed that trained library professionals in Fairfield, and at other Connecticut libraries, vet materials and handle collection decisions, and their authority shouldn’t be diminished.

Lord, director of the C.H. Booth Library in Newtown, pushed back directly against comments regarding pornography on library shelves. “No library that I’ve ever worked in stocked pornography,” he said.

In a later interview with LJ, Lord said of Dauphinais and Mastrodefranceso: “It’s also clear that neither one of them has been in a library in the last 35 years, if ever.” Dauphinais and Mastrodefranceso each voted no in committee on Senate Bill 2.



The bill describes a sanctuary public library as “a [town’s] principal public library that makes available and lends any book that has been banned, censored, or challenged by a person, organization, or entity and any related library materials and does not prohibit or otherwise limit the availability of any book or related library materials by banning, censoring, or challenging such book or related library materials at such library.”

Maher, whose district includes Stamford, said she was particularly happy it was Ferguson Library stepping forward to declare itself a book sanctuary.

“As a child, I grew up in that library,” Maher said. “I was a huge reader. My mom used to make sure we went to the bookmobile when it came to the neighborhood. She would take us all down to the library. I love the Ferguson library. And I think the world of Alice Knapp.”

Said Knapp, “She (Maher) understood what we were saying. She is somebody who reads a lot, who understands what was going on, understood the implications.”

Maher said what piqued her interest about sanctuary libraries was “the idea of making sure that children have access to books; that children have access to being able to read, wherever their interest takes them.”

Connecticut, like every other state, has seen an uptick in book challenges in recent years. In an online opinion article, Knapp cited “more than 1,600 unique titles” that were challenged nationwide during the first six months of 2022. In Connecticut, Lord said there are currently 33 pending challenges, in varying stages. Those challenges, he noted, almost exclusively involve books about BIPOC and LBGTQIA+ people and/or contain themes related to sexual identity, racism, and gender.

“Access is being shut down,” Maher said. “There are people wanting to ban books.”



Jarzombek said the Fairfield Library had one challenge last year, for the graphic novel Let’s Talk About It, subtitled “The teen’s guide to sex, relationships, and being a human.”

“It was stressful, to be completely honest,” Jarzombek said of the process that he described as time-consuming for multiple staffers. “There was a week where the book challenge became my job.” Eventually, the library opted not to remove the title.

Linking state grants to sanctuary libraries was a smart way of incentivizing their creation, Jarzombek said.

“In Connecticut, state aid in any form is significantly lower compared to other states in the union,” he said at the hearing, “even while Connecticut libraries outperform our national peers and are often highlighted as a model for best practices.”

He added, “Tying [state aid] to collection development is a creative way to approach the wave of book challenges that we’re seeing nationally and in Connecticut.”

Lord credited Knapp for helping coax Maher to the meet-and-greet session in Darien. It was one of six scheduled for around the state, he said, adding that CLA is eager to continue those sessions with legislators, after a few years without convening.

“Little efforts like this are important,” Lord said. “In baseball terms, these are the singles they get you on base and keep things moving. Do it enough and the runs will score.”

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