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New Challenges in the Battle for Intellectual Freedom

Wednesday, January 11, 2023 6:34 AM | Iris Eichenlaub (Administrator)


Image credit: Literary Hub

You have a strong selection policy. You have a strong challenge policy. You may be fortunate to have supportive administrators and school board members. Sadly, this is no longer enough to fight back the tide of censorship occurring in our schools. When books are challenged and the review committee recommends that the book stay in the library, challengers are appealing to school boards. When this doesn’t work, the attack continues in new and insidious ways.

Quiet Censorship

Books are being removed from school library shelves bypassing any kind of formal policy review. Sometimes administrators take this on, sometimes librarians and library paraprofessionals are fearful of reprisal.

Schools nationwide are quietly removing books from their libraries.

Both Sides-ism

Challengers who lose their attempt at censorship will often call on schools to add books – they’ll even donate some of these titles themselves – that are purported to represent the other side on an issue when often these books are poorly-reviewed and full of misinformation.

According to Merriam-Webster, “Bothsidesing refers to the media or public figures giving credence to the other side of a cause, action, or idea to seem fair or only for the sake of argument when the credibility of that side may be unmerited.”Example: Some schools in Maine have received donations of Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters. This book is harmful to members of the trans community and, as the following reviews demonstrate, an example of Both Sides-ism:

New Procedures for Book Selection

Some administrators are now undermining the professionalism of library staff by requiring a book selection committee be formed to advise the library staff or by having another staff member – often an instructional coach or curriculum specialist – review all book orders prior to approval by the principal. This is a direct attack on the professionalism of all library staff.

Rating Systems for all Library Books

The most recent tactic is insisting that library books that are deemed “sexually explicit” by parents should have a rating system to alert readers of books they presumably are not allowed to read.

Hermon parents concerned over 80+ books they consider sexually explicit.

Personal Attacks

It’s a sad state of affairs when we see librarians resigning their positions or moving their retirement dates up because they no longer feel valued and supported.

Uptick in Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Requests

School districts are dealing with an unprecedented amount of FOIA requests.

What can you do:

  • Reach out to your administrators and encourage them to follow the policy

  • Consider asking your school board to strengthen your IJJ policy by specifying that professional librarians be responsible for purchasing books.

  • Ask for a meeting with your principal, curriculum director, and superintendent – IF you can do so safely, without risking your job.

  • Share the appropriate Educate Maine Intellectual Freedom Matters handouts with teachers, community members, administrators, and school board members (MASL collaborated on this project last winter).

  • Check in with your union representative.

  • Talk to other librarians and library paraprofessionals in your district.

  • Share your challenges with the public to rally support.

  • Encourage students and colleagues to speak up and attend school board meetings

  • Reach out to MASL, MLA, ALA National Coalition Against Censorship, and National Council of Teachers of English.

  • If a book challenge is appealed, be sure to reach out to MASL and MLA who will provide your school board with a letter of support for the challenged book.

  • Be aware of books in your collection that might be targets, and read/research them,

  • Keep your privacy protected (see MASL Blog post on protecting your privacy).

  • Ask for help, and take care of your mental health.

What you should avoid:

  • Discussing specifics about your school on PUBLIC social media. We do, however, encourage you to discuss with other librarians on our closed Facebook page on social media.

  • Engaging with people who are working against you; no need to enter into a discussion about it with them online.

  • Talking to reporters or anonymous callers; you can refer reporters to MASL's email to contact our organization for comment.

  • Sharing private information about yourself on your school webpage.

  • If you feel that you will be targeted, do not attend school board meetings in person, rather, submit any input you feel is appropriate in writing.

  • Be careful about putting things in writing that could end up in a FOIA request. Initiate face-to-face conversations whenever possible and use your personal email address instead of your school email.

~ Submitted by MASL's Intellectual Freedom Committee




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