Librarians have long championed information access as a fundamental right under the First Amendment and a central purpose of libraries. I don’t need to explain to you the realities of book challenges to library collections right now. You’re living that experience every day, and we recognize that for many librarians, Banned Book Week isn’t something that happens once a year. It’s a part of your daily work life. The statistics are staggering.
A report released last spring by the ALA cites the highest-ever number of book challenges since the organization started recording that information over 20 years ago. In addition, the report found that demands to censor books have nearly doubled, with 1269 challenges in 2022 compared to 729 cases in 2021.
Ostensibly the vast majority of challenged titles are written by BIPOC or LGBTQIA+ authors. However, one bright spot is that the library community and other intellectual freedom advocates have rallied together to provide resources for librarians on the front lines.
The first place to look for help if your library is experiencing a book challenge is the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) and its vast array of resources specifically curated to support libraries, both before and during a book challenge. These resources cover subjects like creating a strong collection development policy; reporting book challenges; responding to people and groups who challenge materials; holding public meetings; addressing the press. Employees are also available for confidential consultations at any point and will even discuss your questions and concerns before and after the formal process of a challenge.
Comics can present a unique set of challenges due to the visual nature of the format, but the Graphic Novels & Comics Round Table has created a toolkit to be ready before, during, and after challenges. Other online resources include materials from organizations like We Need Diverse Books, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), and the Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF), which is affiliated with the ALA, and provides the LeRoy C. Merritt Humanitarian Fund to assist librarians who lose employment based on their stance in defending intellectual freedom. Other organizations, like Unite Against Book Bans, are geared toward community members, but also can be useful to librarians in gathering data and ideas on how to address challenges in their community. Be sure to check your state library website as well to find resources pertinent to your area and to educate yourself on local laws and regulations that could impact your interactions with individuals who come to your library to challenge books.
There are also many printed resources to help librarians and teachers to stand up for the freedom to read and learn about book banning. Banned Books: The World’s Most Controversial Books, Past and Present from DK traces the history of banned books, one title at a time. Starting with classics like The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer and ending with books from our time like Melissa by Alex Gino, this is full of fascinating information about the often-surprising reasons that books are considered controversial. Banned Books for Kids: Reading Lists and Activities for Teaching Kids to Read Censored Literature is geared toward teachers but is still an actionable guide produced by the ALA that will be useful for youth librarians who want to encourage kids to learn about banned books. Emily J.M. Knox’s Book Banning in 21st-Century America takes a more academic look at how current reading practices and interpretations have led to an increase in censorship, while On Censorship: A Public Librarian Examines Cancel Culture in the US by James LaRue explores the motives and methods of people who challenge books from the perspective of a working public librarian (and former president of the OIF). These and other titles will help give an informational foundation to librarians who face censorship in their communities.
Here at Ingram, we fervently believe in the right to read and support our colleagues on the front lines who are working to ensure that their libraries provide materials and access to all. We’ve also curated a list of some of our favorite frequently banned and challenged books sharing ideas for a Banned Books Week display, and we hope that some of the resources listed here can help you in the fight for intellectual freedom.