Library Group Fights Back Against Efforts to Ban Books
During National Library Week, the American Library Association highlighted an unprecedented number of attempts to ban books, with the highest number being ones about Black or LGBTQIA+ persons, and launched a new campaign to combat the bans.
The American Library Association kicked off National Library Week on April 3 bringing attention to an unprecedented number of attempts to ban books in every state, the highest since the group began monitoring lists 20 years ago.
ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 729 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services in 2021, resulting in more than 1,597 individual book challenges or removals. The most targeted books were by or about Black or LGBTQIA+ persons, ALA stated in a press release.
ALA points to an organized campaign conducted by several advocacy groups that is aimed at schools and public libraries to remove books they disagree with for a variety of reasons, including moral, political, and social.
“They are targeting books by and about LGBTQIA+ persons and the experiences of Black people based on the argument that those books are inappropriate for students and young people,” said Director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom Deborah Caldwell-Stone.
As public institutions, ALA believes public libraries should reflect the lives of everyone in the community, whether it’s the school community or the larger community, and that everyone should have access to a wide variety of books. “Librarians have made an enormous effort to make sure libraries are welcoming and inclusive institutions that are there for everyone,” Caldwell-Stone said.
In response to the increase in book challenges, ALA is launching Unite Against Book Bans, a national initiative that aims “to raise awareness and equip individuals in their own communities to raise a collective voice to answer this threat,” said ALA’s Assistant Director of State Advocacy and Public Policy Megan Cusick.
ALA commissioned recent polling that shows seven in 10 voters oppose efforts to remove books from public libraries, including majorities of voters across party lines. “We wanted to get a pulse on public opinion,” Cusick said. “It didn’t surprise us that people across the political spectrum are opposed to banning books. Limiting access to books does not protect people from life’s complex and challenging issues.”
ALA also sought to engage in a broader conversation on the issue and had many discussions with internal and external stakeholders, partners, and consultants who work outside of the library space. The group wanted to bring multiple perspectives, experiences, and diverse skill sets to the table as it worked through the issue of banning books rather than only addressing the library community.
“As the national voice for the profession, we have to speak up when we see attacks on our members and library workers in general, particularly when those attacks are based on misinformation,” Cusick said.
Cusick offered this advice for other associations who might need to launch a similar kind of coordinated response: “Don’t wait for a crisis.”
That’s why it’s important to track issues at the national, state, and local levels. ALA’s state associations are vital partners because local and state elected officials are not always well-versed on every issue. That’s how well-funded campaigns like the one to ban books can get traction.
“Sometimes the loudest voices can overshadow reality, particularly in the current soundbite culture and fraught political environment,” Cusick said.
In leading the charge, associations need to know what they stand for and work from there. For example, the field of librarianship’s core values include access to information, intellectual freedom, diversity, and democracy. “Banning is a direct threat to those core values,” Cusick said. “This allows us to position ourselves from a place of strength.”
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