News We Will Use | Editorial

The overarching concern at ALA Annual in Chicago this summer was the proliferation of censorship attempts and book challenges at libraries of all kinds, in all states.

ALA takeaways: actionable anticensorship resources

Lisa Peet headshotThe American Library Association (ALA) has a designation in its online conference scheduler: News You Can Use. Arguably, most of ALA’s offerings are useful and/or newsworthy. But when wading through the hundreds of descriptions of programs, the label can help wring the most out of the conference experience.

The overarching concern at Annual in Chicago this summer was the proliferation of censorship attempts and book challenges at libraries of all kinds, in all states. Artificial intelligence (AI) and ChatGPT were active topics, but AI is still something of a moving target in the library world. Attacks on intellectual freedom are undeniable; many programs ticked that usable news box.

The session discussing the Get Ready, Stay Ready Community Action Toolkit—a resource for combating censorship efforts that every library staff member, user, and ally should bookmark—was one. Developed by a team of librarians under project director Valerie Byrd Fort, instructor at the University of South Carolina’s School of Information Science, and sponsored by EBSCO and Penguin Random House, the site is organized into sections for civic engagement; LGBTQIA+ and racially diverse collection support; trainings and short courses; free webinars and videos; media for sharing; letters, templates, and guides; curated social media accounts; and “stuff you should read.” It’s simple, straightforward, eminently useful, and always growing.

The idea, said Lucy Santos Green, director of the School of Library and Information Science at the University of Iowa, is to provide resources not only for library staff but for parents, community activists, and members of the public new to anticensorship advocacy, who can then show up at city council and community board meetings, reach out to local politicians, and build relationships ahead of crises. Locally embedded activism is critical to the cause. “It’s harder to troll someone you’ve met, that you’ve seen in your community doing good work,” noted April Dawkins, assistant LIS professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

The site holds plenty of resources for those within libraries as well, from sample messaging staff can use to concrete steps for developing community action plans, along with templates for book lists, crisis communication scripts, slide decks, clip art, and more. Libraries need to think about which books may prove controversial and step out ahead of that with the reasons why those titles are important to the library, said Byrd Fort. Create flyers, host workshops, and involve student volunteers in creating displays—“people will be less likely to complain if their kid helped make it,” she pointed out.

“Changing the Narrative: ALA Policy Corps Takes on Book Banners,” offered good guidance as well. The Policy Corps, created in 2017 to help expand ALA’s advocacy work, has a well of expertise to draw on. Panelists described becoming involved in large-scale advocacy through their work at city and state levels—wanting to bring locally learned skills to the national arena, and then feed that energy back to state associations and school districts. That image of power circulating from the local to the national level and back again is inspiring in itself.

Policy Corps panelists pointed to what libraries can accomplish now with an eye toward potential challenges later. Look to non-library associations, said Erin MacFarlane, legislative committee chair of the Arizona Library Association; explain how helping libraries will help them. Friends and family often have connections you can use, added Becky Calzada, district library coordinator of the Leander, TX, Independent School District, and talking with them is a good opportunity to gather community support and get the message out. When it comes to messaging, all agreed: Practice, practice, practice, so you won’t get caught short when someone springs a hard question, or one that hits a nerve. In the short term—tomorrow, next week—update your library’s FAQ page about materials selection and policies.

None of these are radical ideas. But these recommend-ations and resources, and many more at the conference, were useful, feasible, and—presented by organizations that are working for our greater good—galvanizing.

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Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Executive Editor for Library Journal.

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