The ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF) encourages everyone to report any and all instances of censorship and challenges to materials, online resources (including databases), programs, speakers, displays, reading lists, and author visits. No matter is too insignificant.
You can report online by going to ala.org/challengereporting.
Did your library or school receive a challenge in 2020? Do you wonder if you should report it to ALA? Here are some common questions to clear up any confusion.
- Our library/school followed their policy and we don’t need any support. Should we still report it?
Yes. Still report it! I’ll send you a follow up email and thank you for defending intellectual freedom. But OIF still wants to know, even when the process works as it should.
- We kept the resource in the collection, so it’s not really censorship is it?
Attempted censorship can have a chilling effect on the resources that libraries provide for their communities. When OIF tracks the types of materials being targeted and why, we can continue to protect them from actual censorship. Still report it!
- I thought a library only reported a challenge if a formal reconsideration form is submitted?
A challenge is defined by the intent of the request. Is the request to deny access or restrict access to others? Traditionally, reconsideration forms are used to convey a patron’s request to remove a library or school resource. But that’s not the only way to attempt to remove or restrict materials.
Challenges can also be a public comment at a board meeting, a call to action on social media, a petition, a protest, or a letter to the editor of the newspaper or online blog. The average person doesn’t know what “a reconsideration form” is and don’t initially connect their demand to remove a book as being censorship.
However the challenge is communicated, still report it!
- Everyone agreed that the resource should be removed/cancelled. Should we still report it?
Even if everyone agrees to censor a resource, it’s still censorship. Even if no one calls it censorship but the resource is still removed because of objections to content, still report it!
Referring back to your institution’s selection policy is a good tool for evaluating whether resources are being censored or weeded.
- A parent is complaining on Facebook. Is that a challenge?
If the intent of the social media post is to remove the resource, restrict access, or a call to action for others to express complaints thereby pressuring a response by a school or library, that is a challenge. Still report it!
- The challenge was just in my small town/library/classroom. Does a national organization like ALA care?
We care about the right to read for everyone! Still report it!
- I’m sure OIF already knows about this challenge. Should I still report it?
Even if you think OIF probably already knows about the challenge, report it anyways. There may be more details we can add to our database. Many times the status is left unknown because the case was reported before there was a resolution, so updates are also encouraged. And we always cross-check your report with existing entries in the database to avoid duplicates.
- Am I the person who should report it?
Anyone can report a challenge. You don’t have to be a library worker, an ALA member, or a teacher. Students, volunteers, trustees, or parents can report censorship. Sometimes individuals assume that another person will do the reporting. Just to make sure, you should report it too.
- I don’t want to get in trouble. Should I report censorship even if I don’t want anyone to find out?
Yes. Still report it! All personal identifying information is kept strictly confidential unless you give us permission to share. ALA will follow your lead in any action or communications. We never want to jeopardize your employment.
Are You Sensing a Theme?
Reporting of all types of challenges will help OIF track trends and possibly identify coordinated censorship efforts. We maintain a database of challenged materials, resources, and services, and in order to be fully responsive and proactive, we need to have a complete understanding of where challenges occur and what types of challenges are surfacing across the country. We collect information for our challenge database from both media reports and reports submitted by individuals.
But Why Should I Report Censorship?
By reporting censorship incidents, you can help to identify trends in censorship cases and document responses and solutions to censorship. All the data is processed to release the Top 10 Most Challenged Books on the Monday of National Library Week in April. While OIF knows that many challenges are never reported, we strive to be as comprehensive as possible. Then when a library worker or teacher needs support, we have an arsenal of tools, experts, training and legal knowledge.
And most important, it is our professional responsibility to challenge censorship as stated in Article III of the Library Bill of Rights,
“Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.”ALA Library Bill of Rights
How Can I Do My Part in Helping Censorship Get Reported?
- Share this blog post
- Share the ALA press release
- Email your state or local colleagues to encourage them to report
- Include information in a newsletter
- Post on social media
- If a colleague experiences censorship, encourage them to report to OIF
- Display the “Report Censorship” graphic on your state or consortium websites
- Train staff to report censorship
- If your state collects censorship information, share that information with OIF
Sample social media posts, graphics, and emails are available in a “Report Censorship” toolkit.
Kristin Pekoll is the Assistant Director at the Office for Intellectual Freedom. She is a former YA librarian from Wisconsin and a lifelong Green Bay Packers fan who happens to live in Chicago Bears country. She is the author of Beyond Banned Books: Defending Intellectual Freedom throughout Your Library published by ALA Editions in 2019.