No Actions Offered to Librarians to Help With Book Bans From National Org: Book Censorship News, April 8, 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.

It’s National Library Week, and as is tradition, the American Library Association (ALA) highlighted the top ten books challenged in the U.S. over the last year. The list, which includes the reasons for those book challenges, shows what has been clear for over a decade: books with queer characters, characters of color, or book written by queer or authors of color are most challenged.

In addition to rolling out the official list, ALA also launched a new landing page called Unite Against Book Bans. This “national initiative to empower readers everywhere to stand together in the fight against censorship” offers some of the statistics collected by the organization’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

But what’s missing on this new website is any call to action. There are no steps or tools anyone can take to combat censorship in their own community. Instead, visitors are invited to sign up for a mailing list for updates from United Against Book Bans. What those updates might be remains a mystery. It is hard to “raise your voice” by signing up for news updates without any indication of what those news updates might be, and it’s certainly not a tool for speaking up — no letters go to legislators in defense of the freedom to read.

More troubling, though, is that the only other action available on the website is the donate. Donations look like they will go toward the campaign against book challenges, but in fact go to ALA’s 21st Century Fund: a fund without restrictions that can be used for anything within the organization’s purview. Will it go to creating educational resources for fighting book bans? Maybe. It could also go toward creating graphics used to market the sale of banned books swag from their store or toward scholarships that are unrelated to book challenges. None of these are bad, per se, but it’s deceptive to the average “reader” who is begging for some kind of direction to take.

In the 1990s, a tremendous wave of book challenges and bans were under way across the country. Focus on the Family and associated arms of that organization coordinated broad censorship, and in response the ALA offered robust, freely available information to readers about not only the challenges, but where they were coming from and what library workers could do to stand up for themselves and their organizations.

Image from a 1995 Library Journal article from ALA.

The above is not being shared by ALA in today’s censorship environment, but it is being done by several other organizations whose work is not focused on book or challenges. It’s unfortunate that the premier organization dedicated to intellectual freedom and the principals of free speech and freedom to read is no longer being that. Today’s ALA, which so many turn to as a trusted source of information — they are, in fact, founded on the principals of providing just that, as any library is — puts more and more of this information behind walls. Instead of giving access to vital information for how libraries can act now and can empower their patrons to act, they put up a newsletter sign up and a button to donate to a general fund.

For National Library Week, instead of empowering library workers with support they need, ALA offers a splashy webpage with links back to their own brand. What might be more useful, though, is freely accessible information with steps and actions library workers and library advocates could take right now to ensure that their right to read and access information remains free. Talking points, sample responses to challenges, a list of organizations pushing for these book challenges and how they’re doing it, are just a handful of the things that would do far more good than signing up for an unknown newsletter.

Isn’t that what members pay for?

(It hasn’t been lost on authors who “earned” the honors on this year’s most banned list and their advocates that the splashy graphic with the reasons why their books were challenged is going to be used as “proof” for why those books should be challenged).

For ways to take action against censorship, use this toolkit for how to fight book bans and challenges, as well as this guide to identifying fake news. Then learn how and why you may want to use FOIA to uncover book challenges.

Book Censorship News: April 8, 2022