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5 Ways to Fight Back Against School, Local Library Censorship

A.k.a. The Five Infinity Gems of Fighting Local Book Bans

 

Library shelf with books hidden for content such as "LGBTQ+," "Race," "Obscene," etc. (Image: Alyssa Shotwell.)

It feels like with every sunrise the last few months comes a new story about a school, school district or even state looking to place certain books under “review,” “for the children.” The American Library Associations’s (ALA) Office of Intellectual Freedom finds that common blanket reasons include deeming the subject/text to be “sexually explicit,” using “offensive language,” and/or “unsuited to any age group.” We most often learn about educational facilities banning or being in the process of banning books, but this happens at local public libraries, too.

These books are overwhelmingly about race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality. Other than keeping yourself in the know and sharing grassroots organizing, it feels like there’s not much you can do about it all. However, there is, and we are gonna go over some tips I’ve found from authors targeted right now, as well as librarians. The angle I will be most discussing will be through the lens of currently targeted books.

Use your local library

While anyone can be an advocate, using your local library and being a presence turns you from a theoretical number to a bonafide patron. Libraries hold author events, social events, and educational events. Be present and vocalize your desire for programming that makes LGBTQ+, immigrant, and more populations (I’m vague because each area is different, but you should be specific) feel welcome. Fighting library bans isn’t just about being reactive, but proactive and seeing what gaps exist in the present.

Attendance numbers, circulation numbers, and engagement on social media and digital content (including Zoom) all matter. This makes it harder to argue for cutting these programs if they are popular. Librarians fighting for inclusive programming and materials face an uphill battle, which is demoralizing if no one shows up. Read and check out these books, join books clubs, and see what library resources you can use with these inclusive materials to show they are essential.

If you know an inclusive book is releasing soon and you want to read it, request the book, and they will order it. Make sure to follow up on that book 2–3 weeks after publication if you haven’t received a call or notification about the book now being in the collection.

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Buy the censored book and read or donate it

This is a bandaid solution, but it does help. Authors like George M. Johnson (whose YA memoir All Boys Aren’t Blue is banned in 10 states) have stated that book sales (and pre-orders) influence marketing budgets, shelf placement (visibility), and accessibility. For maximum awesomeness, aim to buy local and shop via Bookshop, but honestly, in any case, this helps.

In some of these stories of an author getting banned, people will donate copies of that book to distribute among the community. Unless you know the donation procedures, I would avoid donating books directly to the library because that doesn’t guarantee they’ll end up on a shelf. Instead, donate them to people or organizations in need of books or that type of representation.

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Build awareness

Like, retweet, text, email, and share these articles about the books and what is happening in areas where books are being banned. This will build up local support and drive social media algorithms to show these trending stories to more people. If there is no story in local papers (including student press), reach out to reporters (respectfully) and bring these stories to their attention. Also, find out their contribution policies to write an essay on the importance of these books and bans.

With an increased audience, there will be a lot of misinformation. Try not to fall into the debate-lord’s lap, but do try to correct misinformation about the book, the author, or the subject matter. Reach out and see if any group is working on fixing this issue locally and what you can do to help. Talk about these issues with your family and friends and that one group chat you spend too much time in.

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Contact school boards and more

Find who in your district can help overturn these bans and reviews. Stress (in writing) the value of expert knowledge from the librarians, educators, and mental health experts who review and purchase these books for collections. If the bans (to your knowledge) haven’t affected your library yet, then reach out to library directors, board members, city officials, school board members, and more to let them know you support inclusive books in all parts of the library. Specify antiracist, LGBTQ+, and sex education books are essential for young and older readers in the community.

Each local municipality will handle the money and (complaint) review process differently, and it will be different for schools versus public libraries. You can reach out to the librarians and ask who controls the budget. You can be forthright and say that you want to be an active advocate for your communities’ access to inclusive and antiracist reading materials and programming and want to know who to help the library. Also ask them what you, as a patron, can do to assist in the short term.

Often (but not always), these bans come from one parent or a small group of parents that not only want to limit their child’s information to safe knowledge but pretend to be the parent for other kids and police whole collections of books. Just because they find something not age-appropriate, suitable for the public at all, etc., doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be available at the library. They go to the school boards to report, and there need to be advocates there to defend the books’ place in the community.

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Vote, Vote, Vote

Come on, now; you knew this was coming. Everywhere in politics affects access to reading materials, from the local level to the federal level (like the Department of Education, etc.), but local is so important. Local and state elections decide who sits on these school boards, review boards, and commissions that follow up with parental complaints. (Also, how much money goes into public programs.)

This is important in the legislative and executive (Governor, Attorney General) branches at the state level. State legislative committees also seek to “review” books and ultimately ban them using the “our tax dollars” spin. While it feels like there is only an election every four years (or two, if you count under-attended midterms), there are probably one to two (if not more) in your community every year.

(Image: Alyssa Shotwell)

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(she/her) Award-winning digital artist and blogger with an interest in art, politics, identity, and history—especially when they all come together. This Texan balances book-buying blurs with liberal Libby use.