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A Banned Books Week Action List: Book Censorship News, September 16, 2022

Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

Next week begins Banned Books Week, and rather than passively “celebrate” banned books, let’s spend this week regrouping and taking a series of small action steps toward actually curtailing the non-stop assaults on intellectual freedom and First Amendment rights. I’ve pulled together a list of seven action items for the week plus several bonus actions — pick and choose to do them all or choose one per day for seven days (then, of course, keep the momentum going). Let this list help you get into the habit of championing the right to read and the right for all people to access the information they’re looking for.

Seven Action Items for Banned Books Week:

  • Show up to your local public library and borrow — and read — books that have been banned in the last year. This means you’re going for books like Gender Queer or All Boys Aren’t Blue or Monday’s Not Coming, not books like To Kill a Mockingbird or The Catcher in the Rye. Bonus action: once you read one of these books, leave a review on as many consumer-facing sites as possible. Books like these are being bombed by censors; this is an easy and effective way to push back.
  • Request your public library purchase books that are by or about queer people and people of color. You can look at books that have been banned this year and request titles your library might not have or you can peruse lists of upcoming titles and submit purchase requests. Most libraries have a form on their website or at the reference desk to do this. If they don’t, work up the courage to ask a library worker how you can do that.
  • Plan to attend your local school board meeting and speak in support of books by and about people of color and queer people. Your school board may not be meeting this week and that’s okay. Get it on your calendar to attend the next one or write a letter to the board. Here’s a template you can use for speaking and for your letter. Know if you write, you might not hear anything back. Because communication with public employees is subject to FOIA, most are not responding. This is a good thing!
  • Write a letter to your local newspaper, and if you have more than one local paper, send a similar letter to as many as you can. In the letter, talk about how many books have been banned this year across the country, and talk about how that is a blatant attack on First Amendment rights. If you’re in an area with an active chapter of Moms For Liberty, No Left Turn, or equivalent, name those groups in the letter. Point out their actions so you create a paper trail. Example: my local area has both an active Moms For Liberty group and a more local group. Both have been involved in stirring up criminal behavior, including vandalism at a local bakery (charged as a hate crime) and in creating a threat so real, a public library canceled their drag queen program for teens. Name and shame. Whether or not the letter publishes in the local paper, share your words across your social media and engage with comments you might receive. Use research, use facts, and use a calm demeanor. You are likely educating a lot of folks who might otherwise not be aware of what is going on and that matters.
  • Make a donation to groups doing work on the ground. Do this instead of being tempted to buy and donate books — books are great, but they don’t change policy and don’t protect lives that need protection. The $20 you were going to spend on a book could be sent to orgs who will use each penny to do hard, thankless work. Some options include EveryLibrary, PEN America, and Florida Freedom to Read Project. You can also donate to fundraisers for librarian Amanda Jones, who is currently suing right-wing groups in her state after they attacked her, or Brooky Parks, who was let go from her job after calling out a new library policy that censored programming.
  • Find out when school board and library board elections (if applicable) are in your area and make a plan to vote. Research the candidates and if you are unsure where they stand on issues of censorship, reach out to their campaigns and ask. They should be working for your vote and, in doing so, respond in full. Then reach out to 3+ people about their plans to vote. If your state has been added to The School Board Project (part one and part two), use the spreadsheets to take notes on candidates.
  • Write to your local lawmakers at the state and federal level about the importance of defending intellectual freedom and the right to read for all. Cite the research and reports and highlight how the stories we are hearing about “parents’ rights” are about a very small, vocal minority and not, in fact, most parents. If you’re lucky to have a representative who is sympathetic to these causes, write in support of their stances. For example: I plan to tell Sean Casten his willingness to name and talk about the disgusting actions of Awake Illinois is deeply appreciated and a model for other lawmakers across the country.
Social media graphic with the seven above-listed actions for Banned Books Week and beyond.

Bonus and Additional Action Items:

  • On “meet the teacher” nights or “back to school” nights — any such event will work — show up and take time to go read in the library. This small action not only shows how much the school library matters and how much life there is within it, but it also protects the library workers who may otherwise face harassment from right-wing “parental rights” people.
  • Find or build a local anti-censorship group.
  • Subscribe to our biweekly Literary Activism newsletter to stay on top of book censorship news and other stories and ideas for engaging in on-the-ground work related to books, reading, education, and literacy.
  • Talk with 3 people in your community — friends, family, neighbors, etc — about book censorship. This is especially important in communities where such censorship is not occurring or hasn’t been highlighted in the news but may be occurring. Emphasize why it is an issue everyone should care about and share how people can get involved and engaged.
  • See a person on social media post false stories of grooming or indoctrination happening at schools? Call them out. Define those terms. Tell the individuals how they’re being indoctrinated by right-wing dark money groups into thinking these things, even though they are patently false (and created precisely for this reason).

Your work will matter this coming week. Sharing a photo of yourself reading a banned book and/or using a hashtag has some marketing value, but it doesn’t move the needle on the actual threats against the ability to read. Particularly for the most marginalized.

Here’s what the right is doing and preparing for this week. How you choose to counter these narratives will help determine the success of Banned Books Week as activism toward protecting the freedom to read or whether it pushes things back another step.

Book Censorship News: September 16, 2022

  • A Katy Independent School Teacher (TX) pulled every single YA book from their classroom. This is what the chilling effect of gag orders and book ban legislation is. Wholesale removal of books. Some more context for this story:

Further Reading