I can come to your library, book club meeting, or conference to talk about how to help your readers find their next good read. Click here for more information including RA for All's EDI Statement.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Soft Censorship via Book Riot and United for Libraries Resources for Trustees

One of the consequences of our current landscape of organized and well funded book challenges is that libraries are trying to stop challenges before they happen by not adding books to their collections that may be challenged.

I know some of you are taking this "don't make waves" approach with your collections right now, but listen up....that is NOT okay. 

Kelly Jensen recently wrote a full article on this issue entitled, "SOFT AND QUIET: SELF-CENSORSHIP IN AN ERA OF BOOK CHALLENGES."

From the intro

In the wake of ever-increasing book challenges, legislature meant to silence educators, and hostile board meetings for schools and libraries, what’s gone unsaid is the means by which professionals within these institutions have had to radically alter the ways they select material. 

“They’re asking ‘who’s going to complain?’,” explains Anna*, “not ‘who needs this?’”

Click here to read the entire article.

But that sentence:  “They’re asking ‘who’s going to complain?’,” explains Anna*, “not ‘who needs this?’” That sentence is more problematic than all of the book challenges

You need to buy the books your community and your collection needs, and that means including these award winning titles that are being challenged. If you are asking the "who's going to complain," question, even if it is coming from a well meaning place, you need to know that this is a form of censorship as well. Please stop. Read the article for more nuance.

Instead of trying to avoid a challenge, you need to be preparing for one by strengthening your policies and  not allowing a rogue Board member or public commenters or a misguided elected official to stop you from your professional work.

I talked about this at length last week here. From that post:

But you need a solid policy behind you BEFORE you can respond in this way. Please go make sure your Collection Development policies are up to date. Make sure they make it VERY CLEAR that the librarians with collection responsibilities make the decisions on what books are in the collection. Outline how they  do it. Here is an example from my library. This CD policy is also used as an example in textbooks.

Make it clear that the Board does not make collection decisions. They only approve the budget, set the policies, steward the building, and evaluate the director. That's it! They should not even get a chance to rule on challenges. They are simply there to be told they happened and how the staff responded. Like any and all communications the library receives.

If your Board has a problem with how the library responds to a specific challenge, they can address it policy changes and with the Director, but they cannot make a final say on an individual title-- unless your policy allows that.

Today I want to also draw your attention to some updated resources from United for Libraries, the ALA division that serves Trustees [and for which I am a member]. This free toolkit is aimed specifically at Trustees. There are documents on how to handle a challenge from the Trustee perspective, yes, but also a reminder to Trustees as to their role and an excellent definitions document. 

Please make sure this page gets to your Trustees. Please send this post to your Directors and urge them to pass it on. Remind them I am a 20+ year elected Library Trustee and a member of a Library System Board. I also worked 15 years in collection development and RA Service. I understand these issues with a 360 degree view. I am willing to consult for free. Contact info is here; always available when you click on my logo.

We need to NOT engage in soft censorship and double down on educating our Boards all in an effort to make sure our libraries are ready for a challenge when it comes. The only way to get through this era of overwhelming challenges is to meet the threat head on and with a professional response. Dodging each individual instance and trying to avoid conflict will end badly for all of us. 

No comments: