Librarians are recasting "book bans" as "intellectual freedom challenges" in their fight against censorship efforts, Jennifer reports today.

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1 big thing: "Intellectual freedom challenges"

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Librarians perceive the threat from the book-banning movement as so profound that they're using the more expansive term "intellectual freedom challenges" instead, Jennifer reports.

Why it matters: Attempts to ban books at public libraries have reached record levels, pitting right-wing parents and legislators against those who oppose censorship.

Driving the news: The culture war over books has become a legislative battle as well.

  • Last year, "more than 150 bills in 35 states aimed to restrict access to library materials, and to punish library workers who do not comply," per the New York Times.
  • As a counterpunch, legislators in blue and purple states are coming to the aid of librarians to help them fight efforts to remove books with certain racial, sexual or gender-related themes.
  • Last June, Illinois became the first state to pass a law penalizing libraries that ban books.

What they're saying: "We have broadened the framing to refer to 'intellectual freedom challenges'" rather than just book bans, AnnaLee Dragon, executive director of the New York Library Association, tells Axios.

  • In New York, "we have seen more challenges toward programming and displays than books themselves β€” drag queen story hours, displays for Pride month."
  • Book bans (which tend to give targeted titles a circulation bump) are "very frustrating," Dragon says. "It's the same people who are out touting freedom β€” the freedom to own a gun. But you don't think I have the right to pick a book for my kid?"

"People are being doxxed and stalked and harassed at the grocery store for providing books that some people in the community need and other people don't want," Dragon adds.

  • "A lot of it comes down to libraries being one of the last trusted institutions, and I think that's what's so hurtful about the intellectual freedom challenges that we're facing. It's accusing libraries and librarians of all these really terrible things, like being pedophiles."

Where it stands: The American Library Association has a campaign, Unite Against Book Bans, to encourage people to take action locally.

  • It also sells a workbook for librarians about "navigating intellectual freedom challenges together."

Between the lines: Even while fending off censorship efforts, libraries are serving a broader variety of community needs as other organizations struggle to find funding and support.

The bottom line: Librarians have gotten used to tackling whatever tasks society demands of them.

  • "If we didn't adapt, we wouldn't still exist," Dragon said.

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2. New rules for disabled fliers

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Logo: The Accessible Icon Project

Newly proposed federal rules would boost protections for air passengers who use wheelchairs, Alex reports.

Why it matters: Wheelchair users have long been fighting for changes that would better ensure their dignity when traveling by air.

Driving the news: The proposed Department of Transportation rules would classify an airline's mishandling of wheelchairs and other assistive devices as a violation of the Air Carrier Access Act, which forbids airlines from discriminating against passengers because of a disability.

  • That would make it easier for DOT to penalize airlines when a traveler's wheelchair or similar device is broken.
  • Airlines would also be required to get a delayed wheelchair to a traveler's destination within 24 hours "by whatever means possible," per DOT.

What they're saying: "There are millions of Americans with disabilities who do not travel by plane because of inadequate airline practices and inadequate government regulation, but now we are setting out to change that," U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement.

  • "Today's announcement is a testament to the power of collective advocacy and reinforces our resolve to create a more inclusive world for all," Donald Wood, president and CEO of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, said in a separate statement.

What's next: The proposal is open to public comment for 60 days.

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3. Your AI-powered speech coach

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Generative AI tools can not only help you write a speech β€” they can help you deliver one with confidence, Axios Communicators' Eleanor Hawkins reports.

Why it matters: Many people are terrified of public speaking. Artificial intelligence-powered tools like Yoodli are looking to ease these oratory woes.

Zoom in: Yoodli β€” founded in 2021 by Google alum Varun Puri and former Apple employee Esha Joshi β€” has raised more than $7 million from investors like Madrona, Cercano and Paul Allen's Institute for AI.

  • It has also struck partnership deals with public speaking organization Toastmasters and executive search firm Korn Ferry.

How it works: The platform can assess uploaded videos of speeches, presentations and pitches, providing feedback on delivery speed, word choice, repetition and more.

  • It can also run in the background of a video call or meeting to provide real-time notes.

What they're saying: Fortune 500 executives might have the resources for in-person media or speech training, but generative AI can bring that kind of coaching to anyone, anytime, Puri says.

  • "Yoodli is not designed to compete with human coaching," Puri says. "It's a way to augment human coaching and bring it to millions of people."

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4. Vending machines dispense free health tests

One of the vending machines that dispenses flu and COVID-19 tests in Pierce County, Wash. Photo courtesy of the Washington State Department of Health

Vending machines dispensing free COVID-19 and flu tests have started popping up around Washington state, Axios Seattle's Melissa Santos reports.

How it works: The 24-hour machines can hold up to 700 tests.

  • They're filled at least halfway with state-provided COVID and flu tests.
  • Local officials can add other items, such as naloxone or pregnancy tests, at their own expense.

By the numbers: Four of the machines are up and running, with 16 more on the way.

What they're saying: The program "ensures Washington communities with underserved populations have easy access to COVID-19 testing and essential health supplies, breaking down barriers to care," Kristina Allen, the state health department's community testing supervisor, said in a statement.

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Big thanks to What's Next copy editor Amy Stern.

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