Banned Book Week - Albany Public Library hosted an author talk with Kelly Yang, a YA author whose books have been challenged. APL staff asked Yang what librarians can do about challenges. Yang said libraries need to make sure they have policies in place. Don’t be flustered by the terms challengers use like "indoctrination" and "grooming." Many groups that challenge books are using templates that use these terms. The people challenging books are loud, but most people do not want books removed from libraries. Yang also warned against soft censorship, such as not purchasing books because you are afraid they will be challenged.
Gender Queer and Lawn Boy are the two titles that have been most challenged recently in local school libraries. So far these titles have been returned to shelves without restrictions at all the schools where they have been challenged. This shows that the process of following procedures and policies works as it is meant to.
No matter how prepared you are, challenges may be mentally and emotionally difficult. It can get very personal and aggressive, and it has led to some very successful and enthusiastic school librarians to question whether they want to remain in the field. This needs to be addressed and these librarians need support. Librarians and constituents can support these librarians by speaking before school and library boards saying that they support books staying in libraries and that it is a minority of loud people who are asking for items to be removed.
Some districts try to brush challenges under the rug, but most eventually address the issue and update policies. Often administrators don't know that there should be policies or that there are policies in place that the district should be following. School library policies may need some additional items beyond what is in public library policies. Raising attention to the issue with administrators and boards can help.
Libraries should have removal forms as part of their policies and procedures related to challenges. Forms often include questions such as if the person has read the book and which passages they find objectionable. Challengers often take excerpts from books out of context, so the form should ask what exactly they are objecting to.
Sometimes people challenge displays of material, especially displays related to the LGBTQ community, will lead to challenges to the display, although people are not objecting to having the books in the library. Staff should prep for this situation.
There is confusion over challenged and banned books. Some libraries make displays, posters, or handouts that explain this.
Adults/parents are usually the ones making complaints. Students usually don't know about these books. Students tell school librarians that they will just put a book down and stop reading it if something in the book makes them feel uncomfortable.
Sometimes there are challenges if schools for younger and older students are on the same campus, but usually younger students do not have access to the materials meant for older students.
How do you deal with older books that are problematic but still provide valuable information, especially to researchers (e.g. some Dr. Seuss books)? It depends on mission of the library - academic libraries keep them for research/student purposes. Public libraries may be different. Can be hard for K12 students to get access to problematic books that they want to access for research, especially since they have been so popular. They could get through interlibrary loan from academic libraries or purchase them.
Currently most challenges are coming from the right, but challenges have come from all positions over the years. This is an important point so people realize that we have to always remain aware of this issue, no matter our own views.
Some library directors worry that banned book displays and letters to the editor can highlight the issue and encourage people to challenge books who wouldn't otherwise. Book challenges cost libraries time that could be spent on other activities, but it is important to address this issue continually so people know about it.
Academic libraries highlight Banned Books Week because so many students don’t realize that it is an issue at all or that this is going on in the current day. It is a national concern so it is good to highlight in places where people might not encounter it on their own. Also, it can happen anywhere, so it's good for people to be prepared.
The next meeting will be in person at the CDLC offices in Latham. The date is December 8, and it will be a Book Display Swap.
Article in July 2022 issue of School Library Connection written by Jennifer LaGarde that encourages libraries to focus on the mis-, dis-, and mal- information that fuel today's growing censorship efforts.
Guide created by attorney Stephanie "Cole" Adams for the Empire State Library Network and the Public Library Systems Directors Organization with sections on evaluation, removal, and dealing with requests for removal of items.