Censorship Beyond Books | ALA Annual 2019

At the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference in Washington, DC, sessions relating to censorship and the First Amendment, hosted by ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, drew librarians seeking advice on challenges to books, programs, and more.


At the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference in Washington, DC, sessions relating to censorship and the First Amendment, hosted by ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF), drew librarians seeking advice on challenges to books, programs, and more.

On Sunday, June 23, OIF hosted a panel, Censorship Beyond Books, with panelists Kristin Pekoll, Assistant Director, OIF; Sarah Ward, Outreach Librarian, Hunter College Libraries (NY); Phoebe Larson, Marketing and Communications Director, Saint Paul Public Library (MN); and Laura Broderick, Senior Children’s Librarian, Pikes Peak Library District (CO).

Pekoll stated that among the 531 total items challenged in 2018, 68% were books. Programs, displays, magazines, newspapers, DVDs, games, and artwork were among the other materials and services that were challenged. Pekoll also differentiated between a challenge, an attempt to remove or restrict materials or services based on content, and a ban, the removal of materials or cancellation of services based on content.

In recounting experiences with censorship, Ward described efforts by college administration to restrict access to a zine she created after the 2016 election. The zine was intended to be a resource guide for students who identify as immigrants or DREAMers. Considering the zine to be controversial, administration asked Ward to remove it from the college's social media channels; however, printed copies were allowed to remain in the library.

Challenge Reasons

Larson shared her library's effort to create and promote Drag Queen Story Time. Within an hour of the event being featured in the library's newsletter, complaints arrived via phone and email. After the event was picked up by conservative news outlets, calls started coming in from across the United States. As a result, the library coordinated with  local police for added security during the process.

When planning programs, Larson advised librarians to make sure that reference and circulation staff are supported; have a prepared statement about how a program supports the library's values. Be clear in your goals and prepare stakeholders, such as a Board of Trustees. After the success of their first event, they hosted more without incident.

Broderick recalled backlash to a Black Lives Matter display she featured in the children's department. In response, she created a handout explaining what Black Lives Matter is, along with historical context about civil rights. The overall experiece has made her more confident in communicating with staff and administration, especially as her Pride Month display is currently being challenged.

Pekoll added, since she left for ALA, OIF has received seven complaints, all of them Pride-based. "Our most marginalized and vulnerable people are always being targeted."

Who Initiates Censorship

On Monday, June 24, OIF hosted a panel, Controversial Speaker Planned for Your Library Event? Things to Consider, with panelists Macey Morales, Deputy Director
Communications & Marketing Office, ALA; Peter Coyl, Director, Montclair Public Library (NJ); Sukrit Goswami, Director, Haverford Township Free Library (PA); author Ellen Hopkins; and author Gayle Pitman.

According to ALA, a crisis can be defined as an event that:

  • Occurs quickly.
  • Demands quick response.
  • Interferes with organizational performance.
  • Creates uncertainty and stress.
  • Threatens the reputation of an organization.
  • Escalates in intensity.
  • Causes outsiders to scrutinize the organization.
  • Permanently alters the organization.

Similar to Larson, Goswami shared his library's experiences planning Drag Queen Story Time. For Goswami, communicating with all staff to ensure that they're prepared to answer questions from patrons and media was critical. Coyl suggested developing library policy specifically relating to programs and speakers, and recommended ALA resources, such as the Library Bill of Rights, for guidance.

Hopkins and Pitman spoke to the experiences of being invited and disinvited from library events, and having their books challenged and banned. Similiar to Pekoll, Pitman reiterated that books featuring LGBTQ characters and/or by LGBTQ authors are often the subject of challenges or bans, and that it's important for people to see themselves represented. Pitman added that for each parent who is upset about her books, another is appreciative—and grateful.

Morales echoed the sentiments of others: "Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. Be prepared to deal with any type of controversy in your library. You want to make sure you have as much information as possible. Prepare ready-made responses for social media. Gather information ahead of time. Any time you’re dealing with media, put together a series of talking points."

She asked how many in the audience have a crisis communication plan for their library. Only a few raised their hands. Attendees received handouts of Responding to and Preparing for Controversial Programs and Speakers Q&A, all of which is also available on ALA's site.

Other ALA resources include:

Types of Censorship

Images © 2019 American Library Association

Author Image
Stephanie Sendaula

Stephanie Sendaula (ssendaula@mediasourceinc.com) is an Associate Editor at Library Journal.

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U Mose

You guys don't really care about books any more, do you? You despise learning and libraries. Everything must be shoved aside in favor of LGBT ideology.

Posted : Jul 11, 2019 08:08



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