By: guest blogger E. F. Schraeder
Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give has made the Top Ten Challenged Books list for 2017. The award-winning book continues to accumulate challenges, including the latest challenge from a Fraternal Order of police that questioned its inclusion on an optional summer reading list. The core values of librarianship urge professionals to resist all efforts to censor materials and uphold intellectual freedom. This blog post offers three strategies to advocate for books and these cherished principles when a challenge occurs.
As soon as possible, respond to the challenge by initiating a public forum. Ensure this public conversation includes a thorough consideration of why intellectual freedom matters. A forum could include a panel, guest lecture, or well-facilitated community conversation. For potential guest speakers and panelists, think outside the box of involved administrators, librarians, and teachers. If the book being challenged involves a population who is historically marginalized and oppressed, include and centralize this reality by involving participation at the point of planning — not as an afterthought — from local organizations whose services address key issues: racial justice organizations, LGBTQ community groups, etc. In addition to inviting the individuals or groups who initiated the challenge, consider professors from local colleges, legal volunteers through organizations such as the ACLU, local authors, board members, or other stakeholders as potential guests and/or panelists to discuss intellectual freedom. A pro-active stance contributes to a culture that resists censorship and has the potential to create social ambassadors for intellectual freedom.
There are benefits to involving the groups who raise a challenge into a dialogue, too. When librarians provide clarity and transparency about the process to address concerns, this ensures that everyone has an introduction to the formal process for book challenges. Since any challenge also provides an opportunity to engage in reflection and discussion, have handouts and resources at the ready. By providing the individual or group with meaningful policy considerations, librarians can cultivate stakeholder engagement with library practices and principles while fostering an environment that hears the voices of those who raise concerns.
Banned Books, All Year:
Banned Books Week comes but once a year, but challenges happen all the time. Consider dedicating space for a special rotating display highlighting banned and challenged books and selected articles from the Office of Intellectual Freedom. This may facilitate ongoing interest in challenged materials, and it also shines a light on one of the key arenas in which librarians are making a difference.
Banned Book Reading Club
If community interest in the process or in defending the challenge seems high, consider hosting a book discussion on the title/s in question. The conversation could be facilitated in small groups or stages to facilitate time for reflection and discussion. Small groups could include those who initiate the challenge, parents, students, teachers, among whom each may have unique perspectives to consider. Small group discussions in advance of a larger community conversation have the potential to encourage honest dialogue by providing space to raise questions with a more limited audience. When a book is challenged, history suggests it is challenged because it’s telling us something about a contemporary conflict. Conflict don’t get any better without conversation, and a skilled book club discussion may prove to be a fruitful way to consider multiple points of view. When a book dealing with a timely topic like Thomas’ The Hate U Give is the recipient of awards and scorn, it may well be a welcome opportunity to promote it.
Ethicist, poet, and speculative fiction writer E. F. Schraeder is the author of two poetry chapbooks, most recently Chapter Eleven (Partisan Press). Schraeder’s poetry and speculative fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in many journals and anthologies including Sinister Wisdom, Lavender Review: Poems from the First Five Years, The Literary Hatchet, The Feminist Wire, and others. Currently an MLIS student, Schraeder holds an interdisciplinary Ph.D. emphasizing applied ethics. Dr. Schraeder’s current projects include a queer monster’s coming of age novella and a full length manuscript of poems.