There is a dramatic surge in materials challenges at school and public libraries across the United States. What can librarians do to protect intellectual freedom? As a local activist turned elected local official, I have a few thoughts on how you can defend against book banning in the community where you live. If challenges occur at a library where you work, you must be unbiased and confer with the leadership of your institution.
It’s all about organizing: mobilizing large numbers of people.
Turning out supporters for a cause.
It takes coordination and a lot of networking. Ask your friends, neighbors, and coworkers who the residents are who are active in your community. Think about which local groups will logically support your cause. These are the people who can help you reach supporters. Supporters should talk to everyone they know to organize a large group of like-minded community members. The group will need leadership from a small contingent. Choose a time and place to meet and consider creating a digital flyer. Each person interested should contact 15 people they know and spread the word.
Meeting with a school or library board – be prepared with a rehearsed speech.
Gather before the board meeting and explain what the plan is before going. Sit together in the room and find a way for those present to recognize you are an organized group (wear a certain color or carry banners). It is important that the board members, members of the media, and other people attending know how many supporters there are.
Designated representatives who are residents in the community should carefully prepare to speak publicly to the board. There is often a two- or three-minute time limit, so speeches should be written out and practiced. If the issue is not on the agenda, there will be a “public participation” agenda item. Be respectful of board members.
Defending intellectual freedom can be a long process.
People interested in protecting against materials challenges should contact the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF) to report censorship and use the website to research best practices. Librarians themselves can report challenges anonymously by contacting the ALA OIF for support, or check within their states for local help.
Defending intellectual freedom can be a long process, but the sooner supporters organize to express their opinion, the better. The nature of current attacks is such that by showing up at your local board meetings, you are supporting your board members who are sometimes so harassed by outside groups that they resign. Your support is essential to prevent your local community from being used as a platform to promote an outside agenda. Becoming involved in a campaign like this will teach you the importance of local political engagement. Democracy depends on thoughtful citizenry who vote, campaign, stand for office, and are willing to serve their communities.
Julia Nephew is a Children’s Librarian, a member of the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee, the ALSC liaison to the Freedom to Read Foundation, and, since 2009, an elected commissioner of her local park district. She encourages everyone who cares about their community to run for local office, campaign for the best candidates, and vote!