Blogger Public Awareness and Advocacy Committee

Advocacy Efforts through Intellectual Freedom

Although “Banned Books Week” is over for this year and most of us have stowed away the caution tape displays, I am inspired to think more about intellectual freedom as an effective advocacy tool during the entire year.

What if I just want to talk to others about why kids need to see themselves in the books they read? What if I just want to talk about access and equity? What if I just want to talk about what might happen if we hide all the “uncomfortable” books away?

Many of us have updated our collection development policies, printed out the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights, purchased additional copies of challenged books and stand at the ready to defend our collections. But, are we really ready to have the hard conversations?  

In my everyday life, few things spark a conversation more than a spunky youth services librarian wearing a “It’s a good day to read banned books” t-shirt. [For attention, please see a photo for example of one superstar author named Kwame and one happy librarian wearing said t-shirt. Photo courtesy of Meagan Albright].  

Here are a few other things that I have experienced first-hand that have become excellent advocacy and public awareness tools:  

  • Highlight treasured stories and create a space to do that all year round. One helpful tool has been the Book Sanctuary movement. While this first started in Chicago, many other communities (like my own) have joined in.
  • Learn more about the laws in your state that might affect library collections. Tools like state legislative dashboards (such as LegiScan in Florida) can be useful in following recent legislation.
  • Support our colleagues and educate yourself by taking required state training for library media specialists that govern rules about library collections.
  • Read the challenged books and be ready to discuss them.
  • Sit at the table. If your community has review committees, volunteer to be part of one as a community member and participate in the discussion. Our voices matter.
  • Keep learning. I am very intrigued by this new Books for All toolkit from NYPL and look forward to digging into it a bit more soon.
  • Have the hard conversations.

Taking small but active steps to maintain intellectual freedom is supportive of your community. But it also contributes to your personal endurance as a librarian during periods of stress and censorship trends.

This post addresses ALSC competency IV.9 Responds to community challenges to materials according to the library’s materials-review policy, collection development policy, the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights and its interpretations, and other relevant standards and V.3 Advocates on behalf of children and their families for the highest-quality library services.

Kimberly White is writing this post on behalf of the Public Awareness and Advocacy Committee. She can be reached at kimberlyannewhite@gmail.com.

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