Librarians & Educators Visit Congress Over Book Bans & Academic Censorship

Academic Freedom, Banned and Challenged Books, First Amendment

This spring sure has been a trip. It started out with mass hysteria over how we need to censor schoolchildren from being aware that families with two mommies exist and is finishing with mass hysteria over censorship on Twitter. Democrats complain about Republicans censoring LGBTQIA+ & BIPOC literature. Republicans complain about Democrats censoring information on Twitter & Spotify. Just in case anyone needed another clear reminder that both Democrats and Republicans can advocate for censorship, here we stand with everyone frustrated.

The United States Constitution says Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. No law means no law that benefits the Democrats. No law means no law that benefits the Republicans. It means no law. As in: No. Law. Abridging. Free. Speech. The founding fathers did not stutter. The freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment are the essential values that make us American. Pretty much every social movement in the history of America has relied on these freedoms in some way, shape, or form with colorful extremists in both directions from the 1990s Branch Davidians of Waco, TX to the 1960s Weathermen of Ann Arbor, MI. Clearly, the First Amendment is a bipartisan issue that we all hold dear. 

Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee Hearing / Free Speech Under Attack: Book Bans and Academic Censorship / Thursday, April 7, 2022 / 11 A.M EST slide graphic featuring a photo of Chairman Raskin

This issue of the First Amendment is what brought the American Library Association to a House Subcommittee Hearing on Book Bans and Academic Censorship this past April 7th, 2022 – the full video recording is located here. This subcommittee is part of the broader House Committee on Oversight and Reform. For more written resources pertaining to the hearing, click here. Some members of the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties were present for this hearing. They are:

  • Jamie Raskin (D-MD) – Chair
  • Nancy Mace (R-SC) – Ranking Member
  • Byron Donalds (R-FL)
  • Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL)
  • Andy Biggs (R-AZ)
  • Rashida Tlaib (D-MI)
  • Ayanna Pressley (D-MA)
  • Jim Jordan (R-OH)
  • Eleanor Holmes Norten (D-DC)

After Chairman Raskin’s introduction, the subcommittee invited three high school students to testify. Shreya Mehta is from Washington then Olivia Pituch and Christina Ellis are from Pennsylvania. Since these students are minors, they were not questioned by the subcommittee. They had a lot to say though, and the teen librarian in me would like you to listen to them. After the students spoke, the subcommittee brought their adult witnesses for questioning. These witnesses were:

  • Samantha Hull (@thehullpackage), Librarian-PA
  • Mindy Freeman, Mother-PA
  • Jonthan Pidluzny, VP of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni-DC
  • Jessica Berg, Teacher-VA
  • Ruby Bridges, Civil Rights Advocate-MS

On behalf of the American Library Association, ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom Director Deborah Caldwell-Stone, J.D. submitted a letter to Chairman Raskin and Ms. Mace, which can be found here. Caldwell-Stone brought up some issues we have all been talking about such as book bans being unconstitutional, parents being the best suited to determine what is appropriate for their own child, and that threatening librarians with fees, fines, or prosecution is un-American behavior. 

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There have been a lot of feelings, emotions, and swift reactionary actions that have rippled from these recent book bans and academic freedom issues in American universities. I think the uncomfortable truth everyone must face is you will be offended in this life and you need to learn to manage that. There should be something in every good library to offend every person, library staff included. For me, it is a Wernher von Braun youth biography in that celebrates him as an American hero despite the fact that he was an active German participant of the Holocaust who used Jewish slave labor to achieve his goals. But the Apollo program! It offends me and yet both the book and me have coexisted in the same building for years because to pull it based on my feelings would be something that someone like von Braun would do. 

Celebrating Wernher von Braun without being mindful of ALL of his history is very similar to the white-washing of American history that many are trying to inflict upon public schools these days. The thing is, all voices need to be represented in a library. All people need to be able to see themselves reflected in a library. Books ought to act as metaphorical mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors for youth, as Rudine Sims Bishop argues. And a library without any windows or doors would be a dark place indeed.

Grant Snider

Censorship thrives in the darkness so we need as many windows and doors as possible in our libraries, not less! 

“Please make this the last generation of marginalized youth that have to grow up and feel invisible and ashamed of themselves.”

– Shreya Mehta on April 7th, 2022

Librarians, did she stutter?

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