With Rampant Book Bans and Free Speech Under Fire, Three Educators Seek Advice | Scales on Censorship

An elementary librarian feels unprepared for challenges; a Texas librarian is told to purge titles; a principal forbids students to write to their governor protesting book removal push.

I’m an elementary school librarian and feel unprepared for materials challenges. The only library school course I took dealing with intellectual freedom was taught by a nonlibrarian with textbook knowledge who never discussed actual cases.
One of my best library school instructors was a librarian who knew the issues and had lived them. My school recognized that practice is as important as theory. You were offered the theory only. Still, no library school professor can predict the issues you may face in today’s political environment. It’s up to each professional to take charge of furthering their education by reading about current challenges to materials or efforts to abridge students’ free speech rights.

Here are suggestions for continuing your education:

• Visit the websites of free speech organizations regularly. These groups report actual cases and what they have done to assist school districts and libraries.

American Library Association (ALA) Office for ­Intellectual Freedom

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC)

National Council of Teachers of English

• Get involved in local and state library organizations. Make sure that these groups include programs on intellectual freedom issues at their conferences.

• Form a banned books club and read challenged titles. Include colleagues, parents, interested citizens.

• Encourage middle and high school students to form free speech clubs. NCAC is launching a program providing guidance for such clubs.

• Read ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Manual. It provides up-to-date information on policies for all types of libraries and offers practical guidance.

• Enroll in continuing education courses offered by ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. See the website for announcements.

• Listen to podcasts about censorship. SLJ recommends five.

• Monitor library literature for important articles about censorship issues.

My high school principal just handed me the list of 850 books that a Texas lawmaker wants out of schools and told me to purge the library of these titles. I know he’s wrong to make this request, but I’m worried that if I don’t do as he ordered, I could be charged with insubordination.
Check school board policy regarding library services, collection development, and book challenges. I suspect it says that a library serves all students and that a challenged book remains in the library until the issue has been resolved. Let the principal know that he has no right to ask you to violate school board policy and that he is welcome to complete the necessary documents to lodge a challenge for each title. Some districts and state departments of education have library coordinators. ­Appeal to them for support. If you feel intimidated, talk with your district’s director of personnel. I think you will learn that refusing the principal’s request isn’t insubordination. This doesn’t mean that the principal won’t try to make your life miserable in other ways. Get a thick skin and do what is right. He may be the one losing his job, not you.

I teach high school government, and my students want to write the governor and express their views on his push to remove books from school libraries. The principal said I can’t let them. What should I do?
Remind the principal that students have free speech rights and that this assignment allows them to exercise that right. His response is like having a school debate team but limiting the topics that can be debated. Encourage students to write the letters outside of school. The most passionate ones will want to make their voices heard. Volunteer to edit their letters and read their final drafts.

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

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