By: Ellie Diaz, Office for Intellectual Freedom Program Officer
In December, the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom hosted its first Intellectual Freedom Chat (#ALAIFchat) on Twitter. The chat focused on reporting censorship, with discussions about the barriers to reporting, how reports are shared, and how this information helps others.
One hour and 280 characters just wasn’t enough to answer all questions. Below are some answers to questions we didn’t get to, as well as some thoughtful discussions we hope will continue.
Please continue the conversation in the comments section!
Support for private schools during material challenges
Since private schools are not protected by the First Amendment, what recourse do librarians/teachers at these schools, specifically religious institutions, have if they experience a materials challenge? #ALAIFchat
— Rebecca Slocum (@bcslocum) December 18, 2018
OIF Assistant Director Kristin Pekoll answered this question: “Private institutions can still adopt collection development and reconsideration policies. Preparing ahead of time to build a respect for ethics, the First Amendment, and the freedom to read will help if challenges happen.”
The expansive “Selection & Reconsideration Policy Toolkit for Public, School, & Academic Libraries” has a section on selection policies for non-public institutions, and some of its guidance on developing policies can be applicable to private institutions.
Challenges that happen in private institutions should still be reported to the office. We can help talk through these issues and prepare libraries and schools.
There were a few questions during the #ALAIFchat about anonymity and reporting censorship confidentially.
How can I be anonymous if you ask for my email address and name?
— Lisa Hoover (@LisaHoover01) December 18, 2018
Reports to OIF can be made confidentially. Those who report censorship can confirm via email, phone conversation, or on the reporting form whether the report is confidential. Question 9 on the reporting form asks if ALA has permission to disclose additional information in public reports. A public report may be a summary of challenges that happened within a certain time frame, that’s distributed to some ALA members. Select “No” to submit a confidential report.
Reports can also be made anonymously. To report anonymously, library workers and educators can call the office or submit an online report. Although a name and email are required to submit the online report, “Anonymous” as a name and firstname.lastname@example.org as an email address can be used.
Reporting if the incident is resolved
Why should you report censorship or challenges when the matter has been resolved? Reporting incidents and challenges today, can help someone else tomorrow. The OIF uses information from challenges to identify censorship trends and craft resources to respond to these trends. General information is also compiled into the State of America’s Libraries report to raise awareness about the harms of censorship and current issues confronting the freedom to access information.
Barriers to reporting censorship
— ALA OIF (@OIF) December 18, 2018
During the Twitter chat, we asked about the barriers to reporting censorship. One person responded that they were unsure if anything could be done if a book was removed from a Catholic school. Another replied that as a first-time librarian, they were scared to report the incident and thought their job would be in jeopardy.
The Office for Intellectual Freedom is here to help. We understand that every situation is different, and that it takes courage to report censorship and challenges. Reports can be made anonymously and confidentially. Here are a few ways we can help: writing a letter to a board/administration, providing emotional support, supplying talking points, offering guidance on handling media and community requests, sending book reviews and resources, outlining options for potential next steps, connecting you to local advocates, and reviewing your policies.
Undergoing censorship can be scary and uncertain, but please know that you’re not alone.
Verification of public reports
— Tess Wilson-Gay (@tesskwg) December 18, 2018
How does the office know that every challenge that’s reported actually happened? We don’t. But we trust librarians, educators, students, authors, and administrators to provide accurate information. We are also alerted of new challenges through social media and news coverage.
In the annual Field Report, we only publish summaries of challenges that were reported in news articles or recorded within meeting minutes.
Release of the Top 10 Most Challenged Books
A2: That’s a great question @lisahoover01. @ALALibrary celebrates #NationalLibraryWeek in April and @OIF will release the 2018 #Top10 #BannedBooks during that Monday. #ALAIFchat https://t.co/xu7AfgEJwi
— Kristin Pekoll (@KPekoll) December 18, 2018
The Top 10 Most Challenged Books will be published on the Monday of National Library Week, April 8. We’re just beginning to compile data from 2018 censorship reports. Explore the most frequently challenged books by year on the banned books website.
Thanks to everyone who participated in the Twitter chat!
— Kristin Pekoll (@KPekoll) December 18, 2018
Ellie Diaz is the Program Officer at the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. With her journalism background and fierce devotion to the freedom to read, Ellie collaborates with experts on organizing ALA’s Banned Books Week and several other projects within OIF.