“Why are these banned?” It was my second week at a new library, and a teen patron was perusing a Banned Books Week display I had hastily put together. A sign read “Banned Books Week 2019” and featured this year’s graphic of a lightbulb from the ALA. There were no handouts or infographics in the display to answer his question. It was a reminder to me that Banned Books Week not only invites people to learn about why books become challenged or banned, but it also allows people to learn that books are challenged and banned in the United States. Founded in 1982, Banned Books Week reaches an estimated 2.8 billion people via mainstream media coverage and inspires countless displays and events across the country. My colleagues on the Advocacy and Legislation Committee shared with me how their libraries celebrated the week: they hosted community read-outs, blogged about Banned Books Week, and crafted Instagram-worthy book displays. Posts on the ALSC Blog and the Intellectual Freedom Blog also share ideas and information for Banned Books Week programs.
While Banned Books Week primarily champions the freedom to read, it also implicitly advocates for libraries. The implication is that libraries are a fundamental component of a society that values open access to information and ideas. However, it seems that none of these awesome Banned Books Week celebrations explicitly emphasize the important role that libraries play in providing this access, especially to children. Providing access is a central tenet of children’s librarianship. One of ALSC’s Core Competencies is outreach and advocacy, which includes “[ensuring] that all children have full access to library materials, resources, and services as prescribed by the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights and its Interpretations.” Even so, the Top Ten Most Challenged Books list published every year by the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom is mostly made up of juvenile and young adult titles. To combat the challenges, the ALA provides professional resources for individual library systems to use, including a censorship reporting form through the Office of Intellectual Freedom.
Reflect on your own recent Banned Books Week programming. You may have shared reasons why some of the books on display, or being read from at an event, were challenged, but what stories did you share about libraries that combat those challenges? It may take some digging, or you might have a story from your own library. Either way, these stories advocate for the value libraries (school and public) provide to their communities. A quick Google search led me to a story published this year by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund about a library in Maine pushing back against complaints…of a Banned Books Week display!
It’s meta, but, as part of our advocacy, we should also share stories about how libraries advocate for access to books. Not all library responses to book challenges are successful, but it’s important to acknowledge that we don’t just put the books on the shelf… we fight for their right to be there.
Erica Ruscio is a Young Adult Librarian at the Ventress Memorial Library in Marshfield, MA and a co-chair of the ALSC Advocacy & Legislation Committee.
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: V. Outreach and Advocacy.