Blogger Intellectual Freedom Committee

Advocacy (for yourself and the library) in Difficult Times

In 2021, Amanda Jones was named School Library Journal School Librarian of the Year. A little more than one year later and Ms. Jones is now embroiled in legal actions due to online harassment related to her work in promoting the right to read and diverse library collections.

The lead article in the November/December 2022 issue of American Libraries, “When It Happens To You,” is about what to do when you get caught in the middle of a book challenge.

It’s all well and good to say “stand up and fight for the right to read”! But that is often easier said than done and, in these divisive times, can be very scary. Read on for some tools we hope will help in this situation.

Importance of Policies

You were probably told in library school that you need to have current policies around collection development and collection reconsideration. If you didn’t heed those words then, heed them now! Policies approved by your (school or public) library boards are your first defense against censorship and may serve to defuse a volatile situation. 

Make sure your policies are current, clearly stated, and readily available for all to read! 

Not sure what a selection development policy or reconsideration policy should look like? Take a look at the Selection & Reconsideration Policy Toolkit for Public, School, & Academic Libraries. See also policy recommendations from Martha Hickson in her School Library Journal article, “What’s it Like to Be the Target of a Book Banning Effort?

Importance of Advocacy

Building an advocacy base takes time and consistent care to make sure there are people that will speak up for the work you are doing. Most likely supporters of the work you are doing are the tweens/teens (and their parents) in your advisor group (or if you don’t have that, the ones who are always in your library). Parents in particular (the ones who are at every story time program) can be strong voices of support if you find you need to come before the library board or local council but don’t discount the voices of the youth. Your library trustees and friends group should also be able to voice their support of your work. Other community members, such as early childhood educators and other individuals and local organizations that rely on the work you do especially through programming, are also good targets for developing an advocacy base.

Need some help on how to develop an advocacy support base? For immediate situations see ALSC blog “Grassroots 101” and for the long haul see the ALSC Everyday Advocacy initiative especially the “Engage” page.

Importance of Self-Awareness and Self-Care

Have you recently decided not to purchase an item or not to have a program because of concerns of possible repercussions? In stating why she is going forward with the defamation lawsuit, Amanda Jones stated, “For our students, my own child, and my community, I refuse to cower to bullies who are using children and scare tactics to score political points.” But, Jones also stated that she will be taking a medical leave due to the stress of her situation. 

In the partner article to “When it Happens to You,” the article “Facing the Challenge” which is a summary of the Public Library Association March 2022 virtual town hall meeting, the speakers uniformly stressed the importance of collegial support. If you are faced with a nasty book challenge, in addition to resources offered by ALA already presented here, look to your colleagues in your neighborhood, county, and state for opportunities to talk things through and strategize as needed. As Megan Cusick, assistant director of state advocacy in ALA’s Public Policy and Advocacy Office stated, “It’s important to know that [book banning and challenges] is a nationwide trend, and it’s very possible it will arrive where you are.” So, in addition to taking walks, talking with therapists, going to a spa, or whatever activity helps you to de-stress, remember, you are not alone. 

Allison G. Kaplan is a former library educator and a member of the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee.

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