Digital Collections are Not Immune to Book Challenges

Access, Banned and Challenged Books, Censorship

Digital collections were a lifesaver for students and library users during the height of the pandemic. When lockdowns made it difficult or impossible to access physical library books, these collections remained available and accessible from home. Now, popular apps such as Overdrive and Epic have become the newest target of book banning efforts. 

Challenges Appear in Three States

Epic logo

According to a May 12 article from NBC News, counties and school systems in Tennessee, Florida, and Texas have recently taken steps to suspend access to these resources entirely. Consistent with recent challenges of print books across the country, much of the content in question is related to LGBTQ+ pride and gender identity. In Brevard County, Florida, officials cited a recently signed law that requires library materials be vetted by district employees as justification in suspending access to Epic; content on the platform is curated by the vendor itself based on age-appropriate criteria. The Texas suspension of Overdrive, which allows for more granular, local collection development and includes an optional parental control feature, resulted in a lawsuit by library patrons against Llano County officials.

A Blanket Loss of Access

Although book bans and challenges are becoming increasingly common in schools and libraries, efforts against e-content are unfolding differently. Whereas challenges against print books typically focus on the removal of specific titles, these events have cut off access to entire collections. Rather than pulling ebooks that are perceived to be problematic, these situations have seen the platforms be removed entirely. 

Overdrive logo

Both vendors have issued public responses denouncing these actions. On April 15, Epic posted an article on its blog reiterating its identity as a “safe space for kids to learn & explore.” The post specifically references the actions in Tennessee and reiterates that all content on its platform is evaluated to be age-appropriate by real people. Likewise, Overdrive founder and CEO Steve Potash was quoted in the NBC coverage speaking out against these challenges. He vocalized support for librarians and urged the public to trust their judgment in the realm of materials selection.

In each of these scenarios, the sudden lack of access to entire collections is jarring and defies ALA’s stance on intellectual freedom. Librarians or patrons impacted by book challenges, whether they are print or digital, may contact the Office for Intellectual Freedom for guidance.

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