Censorship is a hot topic right now and a genuine concern for libraries everywhere. To my knowledge, my community hasn’t yet had any formal challenges. Still, I like to be prepared. So, I nervously and dutifully tuned into “Prepare Your Library for Today’s Censorship Battles.” As if the topic itself weren’t enough, the presenters were ALA staffers: Deborah Caldwell-Stone and Kristin Pekoll from ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) and Megan Murray Cusick of ALA’s Public Policy and Advocacy Office.
“This is not an accident. What we’re seeing today reflects planning,” noted Caldwell-Stone. The “perfect storm” of the last few years (pandemic, political division, social media, and virtual meetings) has led to local and national attempts to exploit divisions and fears. These attempts also raise moral panic about false claims of pornography, critical race theory (CRT), marxism, and more. School and library board candidates are running on book banning platforms. Politicians and organizers portray libraries as “dens of iniquity” and librarians as worse.
To help respond to this, Cusick recommended getting to know your community and building relationships with key decision-makers so they know a real-life librarian. Since people act on what they know, Cusick suggested that libraries tell their stories through advocacy to show that they’re “about so much more than any single book.” By reclaiming the narrative, libraries can reframe it.
Caldwell-Stone noted that written policies are libraries’ best defense: collection development policies, reconsideration policies, and intellectual freedom statements. It was news to me that these policies serve as evidence in a court of law, making them all the more necessary. (Need help with your policy? OIF has a toolkit.)
You, like me, may find all this terrifying. But take heart that the majority of voters oppose book bans and have confidence in libraries. Still, a vocal minority is no joking matter. Nor is the impact that news of these attempts may have on our patrons—especially those whose identities are reflected in materials most often targeted by censors. As Pekoll noted, this is a long game. Frontline staff need to be prepared, aware, and educated. As always, report all challenges to OIF—including success stories that show intellectual freedom prevailing. And, remember, you are not alone.
Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.
Guest conference blogger Alec Chunn (he/him) is a Children’s Librarian at the Tualatin (OR) Public Library. He’s new to the Portland area, so he’s looking forward to meeting other local librarians and reconnecting with colleagues. He’ll be attending the conference in-person. His favorite snack is Bear Naked granola bites (any flavor).