How to Defend Your Pride Display | Scales on Censorship

While situations may differ, knowing your library display policy and garnering parental support are key steps, says free speech expert Pat Scales.

I’m a youth services librarian in a public library. For two ­summers, we have not been permitted to have a June Pride display in the children’s areas. The rationale is that it’s a ­political fight, and there has been pushback from locals and the county supervisors. The youth services librarians are ­furious. The ­administration isn’t budging and doesn’t see this as censorship.

It sounds as if you have had a Pride exhibit in the past. If this is the case, and the administrator has suddenly caved under political pressure, then this could be viewed as censorship. It doesn’t sound like the administrator respects the professional decisions of the library staff. You may have to turn to other options. Ask to include LGBTQIA+ children’s books in adult exhibits. Parents and their children may take notice and request these titles. Make the Stonewall book lists available at the circulation desk in the children’s and adult areas. Create a display featuring biography and include books about Harvey Milk, Sally Ride, James Baldwin, Pete Buttigieg, and others from the LGBTQIA+ community. Every exhibit you create should be inclusive.

It’s tough to analyze your situation without knowing details of your library’s display policy. Now’s the time for you and staff to familiarize yourself with this policy. It may or may not give the administrator full discretion over content of displays. If it does, you can always recruit parents who would like a Pride display in the children’s areas to question the administrator’s decision. This pressure could force a close examination of the policy and cause the administrator and board to rethink.

I’m the librarian in a large elementary school. I recently had a conference with a parent who is concerned about some books her daughter brings home. I was perplexed by her questions: How do you select the books for a school library? Can’t there be a compromise when it comes to content in books for children? I didn’t know what to say.

The answer is simple. The library collection is developed to support the personal interests and learning needs of every student. It doesn’t mean that every book is for every child. The mother has the right to scrutinize her daughter’s book selections, but not to impose her views about books on other children. Walk anyone who questions books and materials through the selection process.

Encourage the mother to read with her daughter. ­Suggest they read a book the mother chooses and one the daughter selects. This exercise might cause the mother to be less judgmental.

A teacher in my middle school refused to accept a book report from a sixth grader because it’s about a novel she brought from home. The teacher said she doesn’t want to risk having a student read a controversial book, and there is less risk if the book comes from the school library. The mother was angry; the girl’s grandmother gave her the book for her birthday. I tried to talk with the teacher, but she won’t listen.

It shouldn’t matter where students get the books they read. What matters is that they read and complete the ­assignment. Have you checked to see if the library has a copy of the book? If so, make sure the teacher knows the title is available at school. Look up reviews of the book and take them to the teacher. You might consider putting the title on the purchase list based on the student’s recommendation. Tell the teacher if you add the title to the collection.

Consider devoting time this summer to planning an orientation for teachers in the fall. Ask teachers the genres they require their students to read, the information they want in a book report, and other requirements. This is a good time to address the issue about where students get the books they read. Be sure you address controversial books, too. Let teachers know that the library has books that some might deem problematic. Review the school district’s reconsideration policy regarding library books and those in the curriculum. Most of all, make sure they understand that you are a team and have one another’s backs. There may be new teachers who welcome this orientation, and seasoned ones who need a refresher course.


Pat Scales is the former chair of ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee. Send questions to

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