Those of us who have worked in libraries know that Banned Books Week is a big deal, but we have also seen it come and go year after year, and many of us are on autopilot for the week. We celebrate the same old ways. We put up displays. We make a few social media posts. We pay lip service to this huge issues inherent in the celebration. We pat ourselves on the back for participating.
But you know what? That is not enough. Just last week we all saw a MAJOR challenge to intellectual freedom in West Virginia regarding the new Bob Woodward book. Woodward, whose reporting skills are universally acknowledged as solid. Here is an article for those who missed it.
Now, in this case, the book was returned to the shelves. But, the Board of Trustees had to vote to put it back there. The problem with this is even more insidious because the Library Director personally decided she wouldn't carry the book, overruling her collection development professionals.
Yes, you heard that correctly, one of our own was banning a book by refusing to add it to their collection when I patron wanted the title in the collection. I wish I could say I was surprised by this appalling behavior by someone whose job is predicated on protecting intellectual freedom and the freedom to read, but unfortunately I am not. There are factions everywhere who want to limit the American right of the freedom to read; even in our own ranks.
What this incident did though, was rally me to commit to talking about Banned Books Week more seriously this year. I am also guilty of being on BBW autopilot. And dear readers, if I am on autopilot I would bet that the vast majority of you are too.
I think this year we all need a wake up call. Not just our patrons. All of us!
I am committing this week to seriously looking over the ALA and especially the Freedom to Read Foundation's information, statistics, and educational materials regarding challenges to materials in our public libraries.
I am urging you all to do the same. Don't just post the logos and pay lip service to BBW [Admit it you do; I am guilty here also]. Do something. Say something. Start a conversation with co-workers and patrons. Talk about what can be done all year long to remind our co-workers and patrons how vital the freedom to read is to our institution and our democracy. Let's make this a 52 weeks a year issue, not just a 1 week one.
How an we start? Really educate yourself on the issues. All year long the Freedom To Read Foundation works hard on all of our behalves to fight for all first amendment issues. Their webpage is filled with helpful information all of the time, not just this week. In fact, they have a series of courses they are coordinating with LIS programs to make sure that the current crop of degreed librarians are leaving with sufficient first amendment training.
They are doing their part, now you do yours.
Not convinced by me yet that you need to spend some time re-educating yourself about BBW? Here's something to chew on, via the Freedom to Read Foundation's Twitter:
This book is about to explode in popularity again, as the movie is coming out in a few weeks, yet it was one of the most challenged books last year [link to a video of Top 10 challenged titles of 2017]. Ironically, it was also one of the most universally celebrated books from a critical standpoint last year too.
And THE HATE U GIVE is also an inclusive title, an own voices book, one that has connected with readers of all ages and identities. But, as we are noticing, diverse books, inclusive and own voices titles, are among the most challenged. This is a HUGE problem.
We cannot sustain a culture which acknowledges the contributions of diverse books and their value in representing own voices for every reader, both for those who are part of marginalized identities AND for those who want to learn about everyone who makes up our world, and at the same time attacks those voices for simply existing and wanting to tell their stories.
We are on the front lines of this fight because of our places in public libraries. We cannot be complacent. We need to be fully educated on all of the issues regarding the freedom to read, all of the time. And this week is a great time to start that commitment.