Fighting Censorship on a Local Level: Open Letters and Advocacy
One person can make a difference---try letter writing to advocate for your library.
Don’t underestimate the power of your voice.
Recently, we came across a letter from a parent to their school board on social media regarding students’ rights and censorship in the community. The letter is a fantastic example of how parents, students, and community members can advocate for freedom of speech at a local level. While this letter references Canadian politics, it’s still applicable to the current situation in America too. Let’s check it out:
*Note: Specific location names have been omitted to ensure the author’s privacy.
. . . Tonight’s agenda includes several items regarding policies for the library. In particular, discussion on collection development/material selection and parental responsibility. First, in material selection, sections 2C and 2E, it states “support the democratic process by providing materials for education and enlightenment of the community as well as to provide diverse recreational experience for individuals and groups.” Also, general principles section A states selection is not based on anticipated approval or disapproval by patrons, and section C states that selection shall not be inhibited by the possibility that books may inadvertently come into possession of children. Finally, under section 6 it states the total collection will attempt to represent opposing points of view and scarcity of information in a subject area. If the aim of the current board is to change these policies to exclude material that has LGBTQIA+ information, themes, and characters, then I respectfully request you think about the ramifications of that decision as it would discriminate against a group of people. Currently, [Library name] is still a public library and should be a resource to all persons in the community and should be reflective of all community members, whether you agree or not. Changing these policies to exclude a group of people would not be in accordance with the library’s current goals to serve all the residents of the community and to respect human diversity.
As for parent responsibility I would like the policy to explicitly state what parents responsibilities are when they bring their children to [Library name]. The current unsupervised child policy should state all children must be supervised the entire time spent in the library regardless of age. If parents are concerned their children may be exposed to inappropriate material then they should be required to be with their children for the entire duration they are in the library. In addition, under section 5B in general principles state that the responsibility for reading material of children rests with parents or legal guardians of that child. Parents who chose to restrict the reading material of their children should be present to enforce those restrictions. The library is not a parent and should not act in the place of a parent. This policy should not change just because certain members of the community don’t like some of the books available in the library. Furthermore, continuing to perpetuate the lie that there is inappropriate material available to children does a disservice to the work of library employees.
Finally, to the new board members…I continue to wonder how you plan to gain community trust without changing policy and causing irreparable harm to the library. The three of you either had vote no signs in your yards or gave money to the Safeguard [Place name] committee. You actively worked to ensure the failure of the millage, and were endorsed by Ottawa Impact. How are you going to change the minds of all the people who voted no and believed the lies spread so the next millage passes?
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Our Favorite Quotes
This letter has some great stuff in it—here are five of our favorite quotes:
- “. . . general principles section A states selection is not based on anticipated approval or disapproval by patrons and section C states that selection shall not be inhibited by the possibility that books may inadvertently come into possession of children.”
- “If the aim of the current board is to change these policies to exclude material that has LGBTQIA+ information, themes, and characters, then I respectfully request you think about the ramifications of that decision as it would discriminate against a group of people.”
- “[Library name] is still a public library and should be a resource to all persons in the community and should be reflective of all community members, whether you agree or not.”
- “ If parents are concerned their children may be exposed to inappropriate material, then they should be required to be with their children for the entire duration they are in the library.”
- “The library is not a parent and should not act in the place of a parent. This policy should not change just because certain members of the community don’t like some of the books available in the library.”
Why It Works
So, why is this letter an effective form of advocacy? Four things immediately stand out to us upon reading the post:
- It addresses local laws. One of the first things this parent addresses in their letter is which sections of local codes the board will violate should they ban specific books from their public library. They also quote and paraphrase these codes to ensure that board members know what rules they are breaking and that the parent is aware of it.
- It references the oppression of a targeted group. The parent then mentions how the potential book ban will alienate LGBTQ+ members of their community. While this statement is pretty obvious for most library advocates these days, it acts as a call to action for liberal parents that were previously on the fence about book bans.
- It references library goals. In the letter, the parent also mentions how the book ban and alienation of LGBTQ+ community members directly violate the local library’s goals and policies regarding inclusion. This statement effectively reiterates how the board plans to violate preexisting laws while also bringing the library as an institution into the conversation.
- It offers alternatives for parents. Finally, the parent closes their letter with a statement about “parent responsibility,” which we can assume was brought up during the board meeting. The parent argues that if parents are concerned about what their children are reading, they should be ready to take responsibility for it. They provide some examples of how parents can do so as well.
Sign the petition to fight book bans!
What Can You do to Advocate?
Just like the original poster, we can all advocate for our libraries by doing what they’ve done: showing up and participating in local government.
Attend School and Town Board Meetings
One of the best ways to ensure your voice is heard is to physically attend local government meetings, like school board meetings or town hall meetings. At these meetings, there will almost always be a panel for discussing citizen concerns directly. Preparing a speech regarding opposition to local legislation brings your concerns into the public eye.
Write Your Own Open Letter
Open letters are another excellent way to make these concerns public, too. Social media has made it easier than ever to draft a post directed at a government official, organization, or local institution while getting tons of people to see it. An open letter to your school board that focuses on your concerns about banning books is easy to spread using the right tags, sending links to friends and family, and posting on local group pages.
If you want to spread the word and advocate for your local library, check out the rest of our stuff here.
Visit www.everylibrary.org to learn more about our work on behalf of libraries.
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