October 6, 2011...12:07 pm

“It’s Everybody’s Job” to Report Challenges

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On the heels of Banned Books Week this year, the Office for Intellectual Freedom is kicking off a new awareness campaign to encourage the reporting of challenges to library materials.

“We estimate that only 20 to 25 percent of challenges – formal requests that library materials be removed or restricted – are ever reported,” said Barbara Jones, OIF Director. “As libraries across the country and the world conclude their Banned Books Week celebrations, we’re reaching out to encourage anyone to contact our office when censorship efforts occur.”

Defend the Freedom to Read: It’s Everybody’s Job is an awareness campaign conceived by librarian and library activist Andy Woodworth*. OIF has collaborated with Woodworth and commissioned the creation of original art to help spread the word. Inspired by the artwork and public safety notices of World War II, these images are freely available as digital downloads and come in all different sizes for a variety of uses. Click here for more artwork. OIF encourages librarians to use the images as computer wallpaper, hang them in a staff lounge, print them out as bookmarks, post them as a blog banner, or even use one as your icon on your favorite social media website.

“This is a request to the library community for something that all librarians can understand: we need more information!” exclaimed Jones.  “With increased reporting, OIF will be able to better track challenges and removal patterns so as to advise members of the profession. In the same way that libraries collect circulation numbers to track usage, our office seeks to improve how we track instances of books that are currently being challenged and those that are being removed. Reporting a challenge or removal can be done by name or anonymously. The important thing is that people take the time to submit a report. This campaign will help raise awareness that OIF records challenges, provides support to those facing them, and encourages anyone to contact our office about these issues.”

Challenges reported to ALA by individuals are kept confidential and used only for statistical purposes. Challenges or removals can be reported either online or by paper form. For more information, please visit our “Reporting a Challenge” page online at www.ala.org/challengereporting. For assistance with current or anticipated challenges to library materials, services, and programs, contact Angela Maycock at 800-545-2433, ext. 4221, or amaycock@ala.org.

*Andy Woodworth is a librarian in New Jersey. He is the group creator of the People for a Library Themed Ben & Jerry’s Flavor, co-author of the eBook User’s Bill of Rights, creator of last year’s ALA “Endangered Libraries” shirt, and a 2010 Library Journal Mover & Shaker. His professional blog “Agnostic, Maybe” can be found at http://agnosticmaybe.wordpress.com.


  • I would love to know why there’s a man on that poster, when the majority of librarians are women.

  • This effort to report people to the ALA police reminds me of the House Committee on Un-American Activities or the witch hunts of Joe McCarthy. Free speech is one of our national treasures. Why can’t a patron complain about the classification of a book or challenge whether tax payer dollars should be used to buy the book? The right thing to do is to be polite and explain why challenged books belong where they belong. Don’t declare war on people struggling with difficult topics such as sex and racism by turning them in. Respect their rights as taxpayers who fund your library.

    The ALA is right to protect books from being banned simply on the basis of a few complaints. But the effect of the Banned Book list is to go farther than just protecting speech. The list promotes books. If a patron complains about a book and that complaint makes it to the ALA, that patron has been converted, unawares, into a promoter of that book! The ALA knows that making the “banned” list is good for business. Championing free speech is wonderful, but treating patrons like bad guys and turning their own words against them in a public forum like this?

    As this ALA witch-hunt progresses, people will know that their free speech as a tax payer is essentially challenged by the ALA. Just as the HCUA drove Hollywood actors out of the country for “un-American” activities, the ALA is cowing parents, patrons, and tax payers into silence.

    Yes, I know that librarians have processes to ensure that book offerings are fair, but those practices should be open to scrutiny and criticism. Fight the fight against censorship, but don’t conduct a witch hunt.

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