Blogger Intellectual Freedom Committee

Librarians on the Front Lines

Sadly, it was not surprising in late August when USA Today ran a headline calling librarians the “perfect target” for those who would ban books from schools.  Librarians are often the purchasers of materials and the people to suggest and connect students with books of interest.  Of course, they—we—would be under attack from those who would limit access to information of which censors do not approve. 

This New York Times article from July was equally disturbing, detailing how (mostly school) librarians have been called out by name, described as “grooming” children, and how many have had to leave their positions to maintain their integrity.  Most chilling was this paragraph:

“In Cabot, Ark., the local police department investigated a woman who said that if she had ‘any mental issues,’ staff at a local school library would be ‘plowed down’ with a gun, according to a police report. The police determined that the incident, which was reported earlier in the Arkansas Times and took place at a meeting of Moms For Liberty — a group that has pushed for book bans around the country — was not made in context of a threat and there was no need to file charges.”

Louisiana Middle School Librarian Amanda Jones is fighting back, suing two men for defamation after an attack on LGBTQ materials in her school library.  The GoFundMe campaign to cover her legal fees has surpassed its goal by almost $25,000.

Public libraries are not escaping this agenda either.  An Iowa library closed temporarily when full-time staff resigned due to censorship issues.  Author Nora Roberts stepped in with a large donation to save a Michigan library defunded over LGBTQ materials. 

What can the profession do to counter this?  First, attend school or library board meetings to speak up for free access of materials and anti-censorship.  Follow news reports on the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Blog.  Ensure your library’s collection development policy and item reconsideration policy are strong and up to date.   

And continue to read, recommend, and display diverse books of all kinds. 

Today’s blog post was written by Maria Trivisonno, Family Engagement Specialist at Cuyahoga County Public Library in suburban Cleveland, Ohio on behalf of the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee.  She can be reached at mtrivisonno@cuyahogalibrary.org.  

This post addresses the core competencies of I. Commitment to Client Group and IV. Knowledge, Curation, & Management of Materials, VI. Administrative and Management Skills, and VII. Professionalism and Professional Development.  

One comment

  1. Tanya DiMaggio

    Thank you for bringing this up Maria. It’s very important that we acknowledge the emotional labor of receiving a complaint, especially when the person is yelling, making threats about job security, threatening violence, or calling you a groomer, pedophile, or other horrible names. And as you say, in many situations it doesn’t end with filing the complaint. Library staff are being harassed. The reconsideration process takes a toll.

    One thing we need to do is have our colleagues’ backs. If a staff member has experienced an angry person complaining about materials, managers and coworkers need to allow them some time to recover and decompress. Even if it’s just to go into the back for five minutes catch their breath and get a drink of water. Better yet, give them a longer break to go out of the building to get something to drink or to take a walk.

    It’s really important to use the chain of command at your library to set boundaries for staff. If you are the manager on duty or have any seniority, step in and take that hit yourself.

    Every day there are articles in national news sources as well as local news about censorship. Sharing these stories with others who are experiencing similar issues at their library can help because it can be reassuring to know that it’s not just happening in your community. But we should be careful about sharing too much. Some people might find it to be overwhelming. Personally, I go back-and-forth. I want to read everything and know how everyone else is responding. But then I have to stop because it starts to depress me. Especially reading the comments on social media!

    When things get bad it’s really hard to not internalize but we need to try not to. I struggle with this. Yeah, I take it personally when a book that I selected for the children in our community is under attack! It always helps to talk to a colleague, a mentor, or supervisor about the experience that you have, especially if that person has also experienced it. It’s really important to be confidential about this though. If you need to vent make sure it’s someone that you can trust will not repeat what you’ve told them. I call my mom and tell her exactly what I really think. She doesn’t live in our community so she doesn’t know anyone involved. It is very therapeutic.

    The phrase self-care has been tossed around a lot in the last couple of years and has become a marketing tool. But there really is something to be said about nurturing yourself after a bad experience and while you are in the midst of the reconsideration process. I’ve been very stressed out. I lie awake thinking, what’s going to happen? Actually, attending the ALSC Institute was a form of self-care for me. It was a balm to immerse myself in all things Children’s Services for a couple of days. I appreciate all of the hard work that all of the youth librarians are doing across the country in schools and public libraries. We have each other’s back!

    (My comment has been rewritten from part of my presentation as part of a panel at the ALSC Institute called “Considering Reconsideration”. These views are my own, and do not express the views of the library system where I work.)

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