- Lindsey T.
- Sunday, March 20, 2022
Unfortunately, the number of challenges against library materials is on the rise, resulting in banned books and censorship. Many organizations promote challenged items during Banned Books Week, but I wanted to know if it was possible to keep materials from being banned in the first place. After spending hours researching resources, this is what I found.
As an employee of Richland Library, I’ve been watching the news about book bans with great interest. Recently, several book bans have made the national news, notably the graphic novels Maus by Art Spiegelman and Genderqueer by Maia Kobabe. Although these bans occurred in states other than South Carolina, Governor McMaster ordered an investigation of Genderqueer back in Nov. 2021, causing several Rockhill, SC schools to remove the graphic novel from their libraries. Banning books is not new, but according to the New York Times, “parents, activists, school board officials, and lawmakers around the country are challenging books at a pace not seen in decades.” With this sudden increase of challenges to our first amendment right to read, what can you do to get involved?
1. Read the Book!
Many challenges to materials are the result of isolated passages taken out of context, so understanding the material as a whole is crucial. After reading the material, ask yourself some questions:
- Has the material received any awards? What were the awards for?
- Have any literary critics reviewed the material?
- Assuming you received the book from a library, why do you think they chose to add it to their collection? Remember, you can always ask your library about its collection policy.
- Who initiated the challenge? Was it an individual(s) or an organization?
- Why is the material being challenged?
Asking yourself these questions will help you better understand the literary merits of the book as well as the concerns of the challengers and will prepare you to counter any objections to the material you are trying to defend.
If you’re not sure where to find unbiased reviews, take a look at these websites:
2. Understand Your Rights
Nearly all libraries in the US, including Richland Library, function under the Library Bill of Rights as set by the American Library Association (ALA). Unsurprisingly, the Library Bill of Rights supports the First Amendment of the US Bill of Rights and protects your right to read materials from all points of view. To fully understand your right to read, take some time and explore the ALA website. Here are some sections you can start with:
In a nutshell, according to the Library Bill of Rights, libraries must uphold intellectual freedom because it’s their duty to provide materials to “all people of the community… [regardless] of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.” Granted, there are degrees to this duty, but book bans and censorship prevent libraries from accomplishing this integral responsibility. Knowing your rights when it comes to certain materials being banned is important because it will lend weight to your argument when speaking to people of authority.
3. Speak Out
The ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF) reported 155 challenges between Jun. and Nov. in 2021. However, they estimate that number is low because many challenges are not being reported. If a book is challenged at your school or public library, please report it here. The OIF’s entire purpose is to fight on the behalf of challenged books, but there are other things you can do to help as well.
According to an OIF infographic, in 2020, 50% of all book challenges came from parents, so if you believe a book shouldn’t be banned, expressing your views to counter the objecting parents’ arguments is invaluable. Schedule a meeting with your child’s teacher, principal, or school librarian to discuss why the material is being challenged. Then, after reading the material and doing some research, bring your concerns to local school board meetings and advocate for the challenged material. This is especially important because curriculum book challenges are often lodged during these meetings. Information about who is on your school board can be found on your school’s website along with a calendar of when they meet—whether it’s online because of covid-19 or in person.
You don’t have to be a parent (or even an adult) to be involved. Not only can students join public board meetings, but there are student-run advocacy groups like Our Turn that help organize and guide teens fighting book challenges. You can also create your own podcast, like Bridges and Books, to highlight banned books, or simply read the challenged book and post your findings on social media with the hashtag #FReadom.
Up to the challenge? Here are some additional organizations that can help you get started:
- National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) is an organization focusing on freedom of expression. They have bountiful resources regarding school censorship, including a handbook for educators and a guide for children on how to defend their right to read.
- American Association of School Librarians (AASL) is a national organization protecting intellectual freedom in schools. They have many resources on their website, including this brochure about intellectual freedom and a toolkit for protecting LGBTQ+ materials.
- South Carolina Association of School Librarians (SCASL) is an organization with an intellectual freedom committee dedicated to issues of free access to library materials.
- National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is an organization for educators trying to protect intellectual freedom.
- Save School Librarians is a website cataloging major petitions and news about book banning across the US.
- Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) protects the first amendment rights of teachers and students on college campuses. This includes book censorship.
Public libraries also have challenges leveled against their materials. Luckily, the process to fight these challenges is very similar to school library challenges, because it is dependent on making your voice heard. However, instead of focusing your efforts on your school board, be an advocate to your local city, county, or state government.
In SC, Governor McMaster ordered the investigation of Genderqueer because of a petition to his office. You must be as vocal as those who are challenging the material: organize or sign a petition with Change.org or Move On, tag your representatives in social media posts about why a book shouldn’t be censored, alert the media, etc. It’s also a good idea to collaborate with organizations that can relate to the challenged materials because they serve the communities that the challenged materials represent. In Columbia, SC, those organizations might include the Harriet Hancock Center, SCNAACP, or Columbia Urban League, Inc.
Up to the challenge? Here are some additional resources to help you get started:
- If you are unaware of who your elected representatives are, click here.
- A collection of resources on ALA’s website to help you fight censorship.
- ALA Challenge Support is a webpage on the ALA website with common questions and resources about book challenges.
- Red Wine & Blue is an organization founded by suburban women focused on providing “an honest, accurate education,” which includes challenged books across the country. They can even help you send letters to your local representatives.
- South Carolina Center for Community Literacy promotes freedom of expression and access to information.
- American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) works in courts, legislatures, and communities to protect individual rights and liberties. This includes the right to read.
Other ways you can join the cause include making donations to organizations dedicated to protecting intellectual freedom or even to your public library’s Friends and Foundation. You can also utilize your public library’s ‘suggest a title’ option to recommend materials that are banned in your school or encourage diversity. This allows your library to know what materials are important to their community and provides a paper trail for that need. Lastly, remember to check out the item! We pay attention to what is circulating and try to order items that might also be popular.
With the sheer increase of book bans occurring this year, it may seem like an impossible battle, but a couple months ago in Jan. 2022, a group of Black moms living near Austin, TX successfully fought to keep Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds on the school district’s reading list through petitions, advocacy during public board meetings, and collaboration with surrounding organizations focusing on marginalized people. In addition, a group of students and teachers in York County, PA also won their case against banning materials in Sept. 2021. So don’t give up just yet!
Richland Library is dedicated to intellectual freedom. To read more Richland Library blogs about banned books and the impact of banning LGBTQ+ materials, please click on those respective links.