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Censorship

How to Fight Book Bans in 2024: Book Censorship News, April 26, 2024

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Kelly Jensen

Editor

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.

In October 2021, I put together the first comprehensive guide to fighting book bans and challenges at Book Riot during the rising wave of censorship. Despite linking to this again and again and despite it being the foundation from which Book Riot put together an entire ebook last February—How to Fight Book Bans and Censorship—and despite the fact that we are absolutely flooded with “how to” resources everywhere, I’m still asked for more. So let’s do just that. Here’s the most basic, boiled-down primer for how to fight book bans in 2024. It’s short, sweet, and to the point.

No, you won’t find “read the books” here. That’s a nice thing to do. It doesn’t end book bans unless you’re on the review committee deciding the fate of that book. You won’t find “create a banned book library” or “buy books for the kids” on this list. Again, fine and good things to do, but 1. they’re engaging in capitalism and not anti-censorship work, 2. they only help some kids who likely already have the means to be helped, and 3. too often, those focus back too much on the good people behind them and not the reality of who is hurt with book bans.

If you read this very basic list of what to do and feel frustrated, that’s worth sitting with. This is not a short-term project. Again, the first “how to” guide here was published in fall 2021. It’s now spring 2024. Change only happens when you take action to make change and change is extremely slow. Realistically, the folks behind book bans and the groups and actions being taken to rip away access to books, libraries, and public education, more broadly, have been a work in progress from the far-right and religious extremists for decades now.

Vote.

Really. That’s all.

Eighteen percent of my county’s electorate bothered in the spring elections. That means fewer than 1 out of 5 people in my county decided who was in charge of several important local offices. We were fortunate not to have school boards on the ballot, but this sort of voter turnout is pathetic, especially being in a state where access to voting is about as broad as possible (we might be beat only by states that mail ballots to all residents). Recognize that this means if only 1 in every 5 people make the decisions for an entire community, it is incredibly easy for bad actors to get power they don’t deserve.

Most people don’t vote in non-presidential elections. The people who do vote are likely not paying significant attention to down-ballot candidates, like those running for school or library boards.

I recently listened to a podcast episode where the guest said something that resonated: not only should you vote, but send an email to a handful of your friends who are local to you and tell them who you are voting for. You don’t even need to tell them why but you can.

Imagine: you go vote, then you send an email to 10 people the day before or day of and say “here’s who I picked for the boards.” Guess what? You’ve done a LOT of work for your friends who may not be aware of how important those elections are nor where to begin researching them. But those people trust you.

Show Up To Board Meetings

It doesn’t matter if you go in person or send an email to the board. It doesn’t matter if there are “problems” in your school or library district. Show up. Write a letter once a month or once every other month praising the work being done by educators and librarians in your institutions. This doesn’t need to be genius. You can say you loved the Pride display or that you appreciate that the librarian at school always recommends good books for your students. That the educator’s classroom library has helped bring diverse literature into the hands of your students. This takes under 10 minutes.

Make it a habit to read school and library board minutes and agendas. Put it on your calendar to do. It takes 10 minutes. When you see something that is even remotely concerning, show up.

If talking publicly is scary, write a letter.

If you’re without a clue on where to begin writing a letter or composing a speech to give in person, how about a template? This template is an easy to use tool and gives you no excuse not to be paying attention or engaging with the democratic process in your own community.

show up, stand up, speak up canvas for talking to boards.

Note: the above template is not my creation but the creation of a local-level activist in Wisconsin who provides it open source—it does not get more simple than this.

Bring your friends with you to these meetings and/or coordinate a monthly time when you all get together for coffee or a beer and catch up with the local politics and send your emails to the boards.

If you have the time and capacity, consider running for these board positions. You cannot run only on the platform of being pro-literacy and anti-book ban. Those are crucial. But libraries and schools are more than either of those things. Think of the role as helping to run a non-profit that has as one of its purposes ensuring access to information equitable to all.

Get In Your Elected Officials’ Ears

You need to pay attention not only to local level politics but what’s happening at the state and federal level. Get on the mailing lists of all your representatives and make it a habit to contact them about issues related to libraries and schools. When you schedule in those 10 minutes to read board minutes, add another 10 minutes to search your state legislative session bills and see where/how you should be responding.

It’s very likely you have Facebook groups or other social media pages that present this information easily for you. For example, in Illinois, we have the Witness Slip Project, which will present the bills that need witness slips filed (this is public comment via a form) and the manner in which they should be filed, either as a proponent or opponent.

Every Library has done a tremendous job tracking library bills across the country, both those of concern and those that are positive. You see something relevant to your state or something happening at the national level, get your phone calling or email hands working.

Not sure what to say? You can use the same exact template from the school board/library board here. These don’t need to be long phone calls or long emails. Get your name and voice on the record.

Then send an email to your friends and colleagues and urge them to do the same.

Stay On Top of the News

You’ll likely only see the big censorship stories or the ones that’ll draw some heavy clicks to news outlets. Pay attention to those, of course, but also keep your eye on local news, both that published in the paper and that circulating on social media. Be conscious of mis-, dis-, and mal- information from any of those stories, but know even misleading or deceptive information should be cause for you to dig a little bit deeper. There’s enough of a nugget of truth to make it bubble up. What is that truth?

Then, follow or subscribe to places where news about book banning is compiled. Yes, Literary Activism is one. But there are dozens of others. We might cover a lot of the same things, but often, some stuff gets reported to one outlet and not another, and/or searches conducted by one outlet are different from those at another. You can look for local-level groups doing the work, as they’ll offer focus and insight into the local censorship culture in a way that bigger roundups like this one never could (for example, Florida Freedom to Read and Texas Freedom to Read are excellent for news in both of those states and in no way could anyone covering things on the national level offer as much depth as they could!).

There is not and should not be any expectation to read it all all of the time. Give yourself a break—that’s not possible, as it’s not even possible for those of us who compile this information. But keeping it handy makes for great searching to learn or dispel myths or add context to stories you might see on social media or in your non-online life. It’s also helpful for understanding patterns in the book banning agenda so you can stay aware of these patterns being applied in your own community.

Share stories that concern you with your friends and social media outlets. Something I’ve said again and again to folks is that sharing it with me doesn’t help online. I probably know and/or have written about it (i.e., if I share a story on Twitter, replying to me with outrage is not going to be as effective as retweeting it with your outrage so your friends see it). You will make a difference by sharing it with your following, be it 1 person or 24,000 people or 500,000 people. You never know who will be seeing or hearing it or acknowledging it for the first time.

Pick One Thing

You’ve done the most crucial stuff above. If you’ve got anything in the reserves to do more, pick one thing. This could be getting involved in a local anti-censorship group or creating an anti-censorship organization locally. It could be writing letters to your local paper about the importance of your library and/or school library. It could be lobbying on behalf of librarians and the need for a credentialed school librarian in every educational institution. It could be coordinating or attending a banned books club on your own or in conjunction with a local literary establishment, like a bookstore or library or poetry group.

Too often, we think we need to do it all. The truth is doing the first three things on the list requires an hour or less of time per month (the fourth thing takes as much time and energy as you’d like to commit). They’re the most pressing, crucial, and effective for change.

Everything else is important and valuable, but don’t feel you need to do it all. You don’t and you cannot. Pick what fills you up and encourages you to not only do the first items on this list but also help you catalyze others to do the same.

Infographic titled "how to fight book bans in 2024" that includes bullet points of the five tips for fighting book bans listed in the article. The image is on a purple and orange background.

Book Censorship News for April 26, 2024

  • Four more books have been banned in Cobb County Schools (GA). The books are Lucky, It Ends With Us, 13 Reasons Why, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
  • Mike Hixenbaugh is one of the most reliable and consistent journalists out there covering extremism in schools and beyond. His recent piece about the ongoing controversy at Metropolis Public Library (IL) is a must-read.
  • Utah’s new book banning law will have grave consequences…if the state can figure out how to even implement it.
  • Fade and Empire of Storms might be pulled from Alachua County Schools (FL). The “might” here is perhaps the more interesting story: it’s some college student who might not even be a resident in the district who brought about the challenges.
  • The Freedom Writers Diary and Crown of Midnight are banned now in Horry County Schools (SC).
  • Washoe County Library (NV) will not be banning books that “conservative activists” want pulled because they’re homophobic.
  • “California lawmakers recently voted down a bill requiring school boards to ban books with “harmful material” from libraries and classrooms, legislation that would have given parents the ability to sue those that did not comply.” Remember that it’s not just “red” states with such terrible bills.
  • CNN covers the canceling of Maulik Pancholy’s book event at Cumberland Valley School District in Pennsylvania. This story is especially important for how it shows the mechanisms of banning and censorship work—this did not come from the administration but entirely from the school board. You need to vote.
  • Idaho House Bill 710, also known as the Library Bill was signed into law by Idaho Governor Brad Little. The law states that any parents or child, whether they’re a resident of Idaho or not, can complain about a book they deem to be inappropriate for their child’s age group. Some of the examples of inappropriate content are pornographic content and homosexual references. After receiving the complaint the library has 30 days to relocate that book to an adults-only area, if not they will have a monetary penalty.” For all of the claims of needing local control, if ANYONE can complain about a book in an Idaho library and get it moved or the library gets fined…that’s not what local control is, first of all. This bill is explicitly aimed at destroying public institutions of democracy.
  • An “inappropriate book” was distributed to low-income kids via a partnership between Amarillo Independent School District (TX) and StoryBridge, ending their relationship following a parental complaint. No poor kids will get books now because one of the books had same-sex parents.
  • Carroll County, Maryland, commissioners want to withhold funding to local public libraries because they support the Freedom to Read legislation in the state. You can’t make it up.
  • “The school district’s plan to offer an optional class for some first graders at Schavey Road Elementary School on the use of pronouns by individuals drew backlash, enough that by Friday the district had reversed course and canceled the plan.” This was going to happen because of a classroom story time with the book They, She, He, Me: Free to Be! in the Michigan school. OPTIONAL.
  • The expensive nightmare of book banning for librarians in Alabama.
  • A group of right-wing Catholics showed up to the Mercer County public library in Celina (OH) this past weekend to pray the rosary over…books they are offended by in the collection.
  • Rockingham County School Board (VA) approved a new book review policy amid their reviews of dozens of books. It has two different policies depending on whether the complaint is over the book being sexually explicit or not.
  • Anoka-Hennepin School District (MN) is the largest in the state and is dealing with a board candidate who refuses to vote on a budget because he is a puppet of the 1776 Project PAC and believes, among other things, social studies classes are only telling a biased history. It’s your blue states, too.
  • So far, 26 books have been banned this year in Rutherford County Schools (TN).
  • Eight months after being pulled from shelves “for review,” the Fort Worth Independent School District (TX) is returning some of the books back to shelves. How many is unknown, though 100 were initially pulled and not all will be returned. If you’re paywalled like I am, here’s an unpaywalled version of the story.
  • The Lafayette Parish Public Library (LA) board president is proud of the bigoted and racist and censorious new policy on book displays.
  • Dragon Ball Z, Volumes 1, 2, and 3 have been challenged in the Eau Claire School District (WI). Complaints are over the “nudity” and “sexualized content.” Note: that series is 21 years old now.
  • A look at the teens and adults on the ground in Texas pushing to repeal the READER Act.
  • Seaside Public Library (OR) is dealing with a city council that has members eager to ban books in the library, sparked by being mad about promoting Banned Books Week. One proposal was letting parents opt their kids out of entire sections of the library.
  • “On Tuesday, the Alabama House of Representatives passed legislation to prevent public school teachers in the 6th through the 8th grades from teaching LGBTQ+ ideology in Alabama schools.” This is America in 2024. The legislation came because in health classes, gender identity is a topic of discussion. But the bill is so broad and vague that it’s likely educators who have a book with LGBTQ+ characters in their classroom will be targeted by the folks with too much time on their hands.