New School Year, New Book Challenges
Learn how to navigate the controversy around which books are permitted on school library shelves so you can support your local school librarians in the fight against book bans and challenges.
Back to school should be a fulfilling time for school employees, especially library workers, who play such an integral role in schools and in increasing childhood literacy. But recent years have seen increasing attacks against school libraries as orchestrated efforts to ban books of all sorts, especially those by and about BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ people. These efforts are often coordinated by groups of people who haven’t read the books and are either not in the school district or don’t have children in the schools they’re targeting. Even more ominously, the far-right group Moms for Liberty has launched a nationwide effort to elect its members to school boards in order to have more say in what is — or isn’t — on library shelves.
This is a difficult and frustrating situation for library workers. Some states, like Florida, are working to ban broad swaths of topics they deem offensive. In other places, library workers are being harassed and even threatened. Many libraries are focusing on inventorying their collections when they could be working on other more useful initiatives. While it’s understandable that working under those horrendous conditions causes some libraries to quietly pull some books off the shelves or simply not order others that might cause a reaction, in the end, this is devastating to the children the books are meant to reach.
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Library workers who are standing up to the challenges are using a variety of approaches to help their own libraries and get the word out to other school libraries. Here’s what libraries are doing to keep books on the shelves and available to their students.
The American Association of School Librarians has a comprehensive list of resources for library workers who want to stand up to book challenges.
In New Jersey, Elissa Malespina ran for and won a seat on her school board, where she was able to work with the board to pass new rules regarding book challenges. Now, only parents or guardians with students enrolled in the school district can challenge a book. To do so, they have to answer a thirty-question document that’s not amenable to cutting and pasting (a tactic used by Moms for Liberty). Book challenges are then reviewed by a committee comprised of parents, students, librarians, and teachers.
Also in New Jersey, the New Jersey Association of School Librarians created a Rapid Response Team, which is a group of volunteers who can quickly mobilize and defend school librarians in their area.
Sign the petition to fight book bans!
In Austin, Texas, a group of Black parents teamed with library workers to defend a book about racism and anti-racism when a group of White parents demanded it be pulled from school shelves. The issue went to the school board, which voted to keep the book.
In Maine (and other states as well), school librarians are becoming more politically active on both the local and state level, fighting back against book challenges and laws that ban certain types of books from school libraries, which the librarians argue is against the First Amendment. They’re organizing and speaking at school board meetings and with their state legislators to ensure that voices other than those promoting the bans are heard and included in the discussion.
Want to help those library workers who battle school library book challenges? Consider donating to EveryLibrary, which provides pro bono consulting to libraries facing these challenges.
Visit www.everylibrary.org to learn more about our work on behalf of libraries.
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