By: Kelly Bilz
An End-of-Year Initiative From ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom
“Every person his or her [or their] book.” Second Law of Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science
2019 has been a contentious year, without a doubt. Even though libraries try their best to uphold the right to read–to provide every reader their book, and every book its reader–they have had their work cut out for them. If you need a recap, here are just a few examples of challenges over the past few months:
- literal book burnings on college campuses
- books being hidden in Coeur d’Alene library.
- Controversy over room-booking policies at Toronto Public Library
- Protests against Drag Queen Story Times (and other LGBTQ+ programs and materials, in both classrooms and libraries).
- prison books policies
- removing books from school reading lists.
These are just the stories I’ve heard about, typing this at a computer in a library in Kentucky, but what about the ones that didn’t make the news? What about librarians who want to raise awareness, but also want to stay out of the spotlight? If you’ve faced threats of censorship or had your library’s materials and services challenged, you have the opportunity to take action.
The Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) has begun to collect challenge reports with the “Share Your Censorship Story” message. As of this writing, there have been 66 reports submitted since Nov. 1.
The information from these stories goes toward compiling the Top 10 Most Challenged Books lists and other essential efforts to promote awareness. These reports also help OIF identify trends, which can help librarians plan their defense to uphold intellectual freedom for their communities. OIF provides challenge support throughout the year, so this information also helps them develop and provide relevant resources to respond to future cases.
You can see in the pyramid chart that it’s not only about books–it’s also about speakers, databases, displays, and social media. You can also see that an estimated 11,567 challenges go unreported–that’s 82-97%. Reporting these challenges is crucial to fight censorship.
How To Get Involved
“III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.” Library Bill of Rights
The Share Your Censorship Story website (http://www.ala.org/tools/challengesupport/share) offers various tools to promote the initiative and to take action. Here’s just a few of those tools:
- Submit a report. Have you witnessed censorship? Speak up–and your personal and institutional information will be kept confidential.
- Get graphic. The site also has graphics you can share on social media or in your newsletter. A few of them are in this blog!
- Spread the word. Send an email, share an article, tweet or retweet OIF–it’s not slacktivism if it inspires action!
- Tell us what you did! There’s also a follow-up survey to share feedback.
Fight censorship and send in your stories by December 31, 2019!
Kelly Bilz is a graduate student from Kentucky pursuing her MLIS with a specialization in academic libraries. She works in her university’s Special Collections as well as the local history department of a public library. Kelly first heard about intellectual freedom in her Information in Society course and has spent the time since arguing with her friends about intellectual freedom in algorithms, ethics, and institutional integrity. Because she is passionate about history and the cultural record, Kelly is interested in how intellectual freedom affects access to genealogical records and ethical collecting practices in archives. In her free time, Kelly enjoys listening to podcasts (especially Ear Hustle) and watching old movies (like Lady from Shanghai). Find her on LinkedIn.