Emerging Leaders Team at Work on IFRT Project

American Library Association, Banned and Challenged Books, Censorship, Intellectual Freedom Round Table

By Sam Jack

Four members of the 2023 ALA Emerging Leaders cohort are now at work on a research project for the Intellectual Freedom Round Table. The project team, made up of Maya Bergamasco, Paul McMonigle, Sarah Colbert and Rach Wells, recently sent a survey to the library associations of all 50 states. The goal is to use the information they gather to create a resource for librarians facing materials challenges.

“We’ve discovered as we’ve been collecting information on who to send these surveys to that some states collect their own data on challenges; some states point you to the ALA. Some states have nothing on their library association website about what to do if you run into a challenge,” said Colbert, who is the librarian at Moberly Middle School in Moberly, Missouri. “We think that having that information in one location, rather than trying to dig through your state library association’s website to see if there’s anything you need to do for them, would be beneficial.”

The survey went out a few days ago, and responses are already beginning to trickle in, Bergamasco said. The “final product,” which will be presented at the ALA Annual Conference this June, is still a bit nebulous at this point. It will be shaped by what the Emerging Leaders learn over the next few months.

In addition to gathering info on how to report challenges at state and local levels, the team is asking state associations for information about what kinds of materials are being challenged, and about perceptions of what constitutes a reportable “challenge” or incident.

“For library workers, if a patron is making an informal complaint that they disagree with something being on the shelf, that’s far different from a patron sending an email repeatedly to the library,” said Bergamasco, a librarian at Harvard Law School. “We’d like to give a better idea of the definition of a challenge or a report, and then what is the bar for reporting to the ALA or the Office for Intellectual Freedom? When does it become time for someone to submit that report?”

Bergamasco and Colbert both said they feel fortunate to have this opportunity to research intellectual freedom issues at a time of sharply increased challenges.

“Banned books generally are getting attention because they’re sharing important information – information that people find threatening, for whatever reason,” Bergamasco said. “What’s stood out to me so far is the renewed importance of defending librarians’ right to do collection development.”

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