Book challenges and bans are not new, but the recent surge is exceptionally large and widespread. Library staff in nearly every state have faced recent attempts to ban books; a report by ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 729 challenges to library, school, and university materials in 2021. This resulted in the highest number since ALA began compiling the list twenty years ago—more than 1,597 challenges or removals of individual books. The books targeted are largely those about Black and/or LGBTQ+ persons, such as 3RP’s Weird Girl and What’s His Name.
The notions that banned books are just a quick click away online or that challenges increase publicity and sales for authors are privileged ones. For the bulk of authors, there is no positive change, and no author writes with the hope of being inaccessible to their intended readers. We have a responsibility to make sure readers have access to the possibility books provide. Three Rooms Press wants to help ensure that this struggle against censorship remains present in our thoughts and daily actions. Here are a few things you can do to fight back.
- Make sure you, your children, and your students still have access to diverse perspectives
In response to the recent wave of challenges, the Brooklyn Public Library is offering young readers free library cards and access to banned books. The free e-card is valid for one year to readers aged 13 to 21, and provides access to BPL’s archive of 350,000 e-books, 200,000 audio books, and over 100 databases. The library is also offering guidance and support through their Intellectual Freedom Teen Council (@bklynfuture on Instagram), and a BookMatch program to provide book recommendations by teens, for teens.
The New York Public Library has also joined in, issuing a city-wide challenge to read as many banned books as possible—and they’re making commonly banned books available to everyone for free with the Books For All initiative! Continuing to read challenged books is a great way to carry thier perspectives forward, making sure they are not erased.
- Report a challenge to the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom
The American Library Association (ALA) has a long-standing commitment to defend intellectual freedom in libraries. Reporting censorship and challenges is vital to the development of resources to protect libraries, and makes sure the Office of Intellectual Freedom is aware of the most recent developments, able to supply crucial tools and programs to library workers, and that their compiled lists and trend reports of the most challenge books are up-to-date and accurate. You can report challenges and other issues faced by libraries through their online form.
- Learn about censorship and how schools and libraries choose books
Censorship doesn’t just happen through heavily publicized challenges—librarians and teachers may serve as gatekeepers who determine what students and young readers in their areas do and do not have access to. Schools and libraries have a responsibility to shape the minds of students, but their power to choose resources should be based on educational reasons, not personal bias. The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) has compiled an action guide for young readers to combat these sorts of challenges and others, including ways to encourage open communication between the community and the school or library, and ways to access information regarding local representatives and reach out to them.
- Gather information about your local school board, library board, and city council
Open communication is key, and so keeping up to date with local news and local board meetings is paramount. When and where to local boards regularly meet, and can you access minutes to previous meetings? Federal and local laws grant you access to these paper trails—you can also join boards and show up to meetings if you have the time, or write letters if you don’t. Donations to libraries can also help them expand and maintain collections vital to young readers. It is important that these institutions know what students need and want, and the only way to ensure that is speaking out for yourself and your community.