…Don’t hesitate to speak up!
The ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom (“OIF”) encourages everyone to report any and all instances of censorship and challenges to materials (including databases), programs, speakers, filtering and author visits. No matter is too insignificant. If we let instances of censorship slide by or decide to just take certain books off the shelf to avoid conflict or save time, we undermine the First Amendment and our own profession.
And yes, this stuff might seem a bit dry next to the compelling topics we children’s librarians want to focus on – inclusive storytimes, early literacy, diverse materials, brain development, school partnerships, screen time…BUT, as I have been reminded since agreeing to serve on the ALSC IF Committee, intellectual freedom underlies everything. How can we serve our patrons if the “just right” book that they need has been removed or the online resource filtered? (Not to mention that IF is the cornerstone of a democracy…) First Amendment rights and the Library Bill of Rights deserve vigilance.
Reporting of all types of challenges will help the ALA OIF track trends and possibly identify coordinated censorship efforts. The OIF maintains a database of challenged materials, and in order to be fully responsive and proactive, the OIF needs to have a complete understanding of where challenges occur and what types of challenges are surfacing across the country. Then it can bring to bear its considerable arsenal of tools, experts, training and legal knowledge.
Some fairly common claims or targets: lgbtq picture books, juvenile lit deemed too sexually explicit, databases that allow children to access “pornography” (not a legal definition), book removals without process, and cancellation of author visits. What have you heard or experienced? Access the ALA reporting mechanism here.
Want to ward off problems before they begin? Check out the OIF online resources for help drafting collection policies, staff training, messaging for parents, and more. If you do receive a challenge, look for response guidelines, procedures for conducting a Challenge Hearing, and even tips on working with the media.
One final note: All individual and institutional reports can be kept confidential, so there is no downside to reporting anything of concern. For questions, or to report the challenge over the phone, you may call 1-800-545-2433 x4226 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Betsy Boyce Brainerd
Co-Chair, ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee
Early Literacy Librarian