Censorship has been all over the news lately. From the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida to a proposed bill in Texas that creates state-mandated ratings for school library books, giving the government to police what books are allowed in school libraries. I wrote before about how to start a banned book club. Now that you’ve started your club and have developed relationships within the group, it’s time to do more than read banned books. It’s time to be reader activists.
A single person can make a huge difference when they are diligent and organized. In Alabama, a woman’s local library had Mr. Watson’s Chickens by Jarrett Dapier challenged. This book features a same-sex couple who have too many chickens, but when they try to rehome them, they escape and need to be collected. She contacted the author to let him know what was going on in her community, worried that his book was going to be pulled from circulation. She gathered a little less than 20 letters of support from people in the community, making them into a packet for each board member. Then, at the school board meeting, she spoke passionately about how important it was to keep this book on the shelves. The board voted unanimously to keep the book, shocking the community and the author.
If one person can make a change like that, imagine the power a group holds. Even a small book club of five or fewer members can make a huge difference when they decide to take action together. Here are some ways that your book club can fight against censorship in your community.
The first thing your group needs to do to fight censorship is to stay informed about all the goings on in your community. Presumably, book club members live close to each other. Even if they are from several counties or a city and its surrounding counties, there’s a localized area to focus on. It’s important to check in every meeting on what is happening in local libraries and schools. Local news can be harder to find because it often doesn’t come to our phones with a push notification like other major news outlets. Set Google alerts with keywords for your area. Be mindful about what is happening around you. With cell phones and the change in our culture where more people keep to themselves, it’s easy to miss local events like book challenges.
Build relationships with local librarians. Tell them that you have a book club and want to support them however you can. Many libraries have book club in a bag where they will check out a set of books to one person, so that every member of the book club has access to a copy. This not only helps their circulation numbers, but also gives book club members an opportunity to connect to librarians when they pick up their book club bags. This allows you to get information and updates directly from the source, often getting inside information that hasn’t hit news sources yet.
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Educate Your Community
Word of mouth has long been proven as the most effective marketing strategy. People are 90% more likely to trust and buy from a place recommended to them by a friend. The same principles apply to local activism. Talk to your family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors about book challenges and bans going on in the community. It’s important to educate people about issues they may have missed that directly impact them. Not everyone can be passionate about every issue. Since this is your issue, tell your people what you’ve learned and how you plan to vote. Then they will be able to make an informed decision based on a trusted source: you.
Attend Local Meetings
Town hall, school board, and library board meetings are all open to the public and generally poorly attended. Plan your monthly book club meeting the same night as the school board meeting and show up together. Much like word of mouth, showing up has a greater impact than almost anything else. When you attend a meeting, you’ll not only be able to speak up and speak out against censorship, you’ll be the first to know about what’s on the ballot and what’s coming down the line.
I know, I know, you hear this every time. You hear it every time because it works. Voting in your local elections for representatives who are against censorship in schools and libraries directly affects your community. I’m going to say it again: vote in local elections. This means to vote for who is on your school board, library board, county, city, and state government officials. Don’t like any of the names on the ballot? Run for the position yourself! If you hold a board position, you’ll absolutely be aware of what is happening in the community and will be able to inform your book club who can then tell their friends and family until the entire community is better informed. We have guides for how to run for your school board and library board.
Plan one of your book club meeting nights to be a night that y’all write after the book discussion. You can write a letter against censorship to your local school board or representative. You can write to your library asking them to order titles of banned or challenged books you see they are missing. You can report challenged books to the American Library Association or report to the National Coalition Against Censorship.
Write to authors of banned books, like the woman in Alabama did to Jarrett Dapier. Write to show them your support. There are so many challenged authors, especially in school libraries. Some include Angie Thomas, Jason Reynolds, George M. Johnson, Ashley Hope Perez, Jonathan Evison, and Alex Gino, to name just a few. Or reach out the the author of the book being challenged in your community letting them know that you support their work and are fighting for it to stay on the shelves. Often, because of the miracle of the internet, you’ll get a response from them. Invite them to join your book club one night, and they may even video in. It’s a treat for both the book club and for the author.
Similarly, write an email to a public or school librarian thanking them for the work they do. Like many public service jobs, being a librarian can be thankless. It’s hard to know the impact you’re having or if the work you’re doing matters because progress can be slow. A quick email from your cell phone one night during book club will brighten a librarian’s day, maybe even their entire week.
Take one month and use the money that you would spend on acquiring the book for book club and donate it. Donors Choose is a site that partners with educators to fund projects for their classrooms or libraries. You can search for a specific school or specific type of project to fund. When I searched “books” on the site, dozens of projects of teachers and librarians trying to provide books to their students popped up. By default, it lists projects from my state first, so I can find a local school to support if I wanted.
Donate to your local library. Find their Friends or Foundation group and donate. Many of them have a button right there on their website. If not, then this is another opportunity for you to build a relationship with your librarians. Reach out to them and ask how you can donate. Sometimes if it isn’t money, then there is a project or program they are running that could use books or supplies.
Find a nonprofit organization that fights censorship. EveryLibrary is one such nonprofit. They help “public, school, and college libraries win bonding, tax, and advisory referendum, ensuring stable funding and access to libraries for generations to come.” There’s a big blue “donate” button right on the top of their website, making it easy to find how to give money.
It can feel hopeless in the world today. There is so much injustice, so many causes to fight for that it can feel like there’s nothing you could possibly do to help. But in this issue, there are real, actionable steps that you can take that will make a difference in your community. Don’t let book banners convince you that you are powerless. There are more of us than there are of them. Often, they’re just louder. Gather your people, make a plan, and get ready to change your community.
If you want to read more about how to fight censorship, here is an anti-censorship toolkit and here’s how to contact your legislators about book bans. Learn more about what rights students have to access books. And follow Book Riot’s censorship news round up to get the latest information about book bans around the United States.