The Bookseller and the Librarian Should Be Friends | From the Editor

Did booksellers throw librarians under the bus regarding censorship? Imagining there was more to the story out of ABA's Winter Institute, SLJ editor in chief Kathy Ishizuka explores common ground between bookstores and libraries and finds that when book people work together, good things can happen.

A hot topic at the Winter Institute of the ­American Booksellers Association? Censorship.

There were “stories of outrage,” according to Publishers Weekly coverage of the ­February event held in Seattle. “But ­solutions were in shorter supply.”

Moreover, the reporting went, “booksellers are frustrated with schools’ and libraries’ capitulations to uninformed book challenges....”

Needless to say, my interest was piqued. Imagining there was more to the story, and potentially, ways to build on common ground between bookstores and libraries, I reached out to Brein Lopez.

Brein Lopez
Brein Lopez

The manager of Children’s Book World in Los Angeles, Lopez attended the Winter Institute, but doesn’t recall hearing any frustration with libraries among his peers. Instead, there were ideas and strategies shared in the spirit of: What can we do?

Various retailers, from children’s and adult establishments, large and small, to those ranging across the sociopolitical and geographic spectrum, broke into small groups to consider responses to censorship. From there, they never stopped talking, says Lopez. “One of the things discussed was supporting people within our bookselling community, our customers, or other people who are interested in running for school board. Can we actually come ­together within our communities of people who love books to find candidates to run with a different ­philosophy about access to books for all kids?”

Bookstores could also offer a safe space for librarians and teachers to talk about what’s going on in their schools and libraries, when they may fear discussing censorship in the workplace.

Lopez acknowledges the relative security of his store—located in L.A.’s liberal Westside, Children’s Book World foregrounds “multicultural” books and commits to diversity as its mission.

“We try to provide support by making our list visible for teachers and librarians around the country to be able to access these books. But that’s not going to help people in Florida or Texas, where they’re facing a completely different situation,” he says.

“[Librarians and teachers] are losing their jobs. So I don’t see how that would be capitulation when you’re forced, really forced into this sort of situation.”

A save by sweet pea

When book people work together, good things can happen. Just ask Suzanna Panter. The program manager of Tacoma, WA, school libraries, Panter reached out to local indie King’s Books when she started the job seven years ago. The store’s owner, sweet pea Flaherty (yes, his first name is lowercased), was “very enthusiastic about building partnerships with us,” Panter says by email.

Flaherty devised a book fair where families could buy books at King’s, with the school receiving a profit on par with what Scholastic was offering or a greater amount in store credit, says Panter. The bookstore set up and managed the fair, “taking considerable work off of our stretched library staff.” When ­Tacoma ­libraries received an $18K state grant to buy diverse titles, with only three weeks to secure them, Flaherty stepped in. They ordered the books, Panter says, adding a bulk discount, “and no shipping costs, as they hand delivered the books to my head cataloger’s home!” this being the pandemic.

While communities pull together, Lopez wants to see deep-pocketed supporters step up and fund ­student access, purchasing banned books for free distribution, or public readings.

A massive public service campaign could put story first, using broadcast media, celebrity readers, any manner of outlet to let the power, beauty, and ­empathy of books speak for themselves. Imagine that.


Author Image
Kathy Ishizuka

Kathy Ishizuka is editor in chief of School Library Journal.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing