If you are a constant reader of this blog, you may be familiar with the #FReadom movement that originated in Texas. Though students are on winter break, the fight for the freedom to read is still on. If you are not familiar, #FReadom is a group of Texas school librarians fighting recent Texas state Republican lawmaker attacks on public school students’ freedom to read. The most significant “banned book list” was that of Representative Matt Krause. #FReadom got major news coverage on CNN, so even though the students are on winter break, the fight for their freedom to read is still on on full force.
The Texas Library Association (TLA) is a powerhouse among state library associations. The TLA Annual Conference is attended by many non-Texas residents, especially youth library workers busy with Summer Reading by the time ALA Annual gets going. Naturally, they have a multitude of resources for Texan library workers experiencing material challenges, including an intellectual freedom hotline and information regarding professional liability insurance. More specifically, on Tuesday, January 25th, TLA will be holding a talk on Legal & Policy Issues Related to Materials Challenges at 3:30pm central time. The Office of Intellectual Freedom’s very own Deborah Caldwell-Stone will be a panelist so if you are a TLA member, be sure to attend this free webinar ($25 to nonmembers)!
Speaking of OIF, the Office has taken in over 300 challenge reports since September 1st, 2021. This is not counting challenge reports from January-August 2021. For reference, this is considered a high number for just a few months. The years:
- 2020 had 156 book challenge cases
- 2019 had 377 book challenge cases
- 2018 had 347 book challenge cases
- 2017 had 354 book challenge cases
- 2016 had 323 book challenge cases
- 2015 had 275 book challenge cases
OIF staff have been working hard to provide support to at least 275 of those Fall 2021 challenge reports. Many of the “problem books” seem to be on the shelves of school libraries or within school curricula. Oklahoma’s legislature just introduced a bill so radical that one would hope it never becomes law. That being said, public library workers should not feel exempt for too long. We are all in this together and we need to support one another.
Llano County Library, TX shut down over the holiday break for a thorough review of every single children’s book in the library system. There is no indication as to what their review procedure was, but it does seem like an interesting piece of news. Public libraries, this phenomenon could very well be coming your way. In this issue, we need to stand firm. We know that we do not have pornography on our shelves, readily available to children. There may be graphic images in certain books because it is best to be direct to a child going through puberty. Or even just to explain to the very young about who has what parts – kids have questions! Those images are not intended to arouse anyone. Printing out the dictionary definition of pornography on a posterboard and bringing it to a school board meeting does not make library books pornography, nor library staff child-pornographers. That’s ridiculous. This is emotional rhetoric intended to incense.
The world is indeed a dark place. There are many terrible things happening to children. School and youth library workers sometimes see evidence of this from their young patrons. As TLA President Elect Mary Woodward said in the aforementioned CNN article, “School librarians do not go into this business to harm kids.” The library is usually an escape from all of that. Books, movies, video games, and even study rooms offer figurative and literal escapes within a community fourth space. Kids need their libraries to escape bullying, strained home situations, or even their own minds. And let’s be real, adults have been heavy on the study room bookings to escape kids at home too.
As we all know from library school, books are for use. Every reader has their books and every book has its readers. Libraries make these books quick & easy to find. These book collections will grow and change over time since the library is a growing organism. Gender Queer, George, Lawn Boy, and Beyond Magenta might not be for you but they are for someone. If such books are not for you, leaving them on the shelves for someone else is very much within your circle of control.
Maybe you work in a law library, which is pretty far removed from the current wave of book challenges. Or maybe you work in an entirely different field and are just reading this blog for fun! You can support intellectual freedom in a multitude of ways:
- Donating to the American Library Association
- Donating to the Texas Library Association
- Donating to the Freedom to Read Foundation’s Judith F. Krug memorial fund
- Donating to the National Coalition Against Censorship
Finally, and I know this is a big ask, but if you have reported book challenges to the Office of Intellectual Freedom, please be sure to follow up with any good news! We always like to hear about happy outcomes. Cheers to 2022!
Holly Eberle is the Teen Programming and Outreach Librarian at the Algonquin Area Public Library District in Illinois. She received her MLIS from the University of Illinois in December 2015. In addition to intellectual freedom, she is also passionate about the opioid epidemic and getting Narcan inside every public library.