How to Support Libraries in Times of Increased Censorship

The Mother Next Door by Tara Laskowski

GOOD MOTHERS…

Never show their feelings.

Never spill their secrets.

Never admit to murder.

Libraries are under attack in many parts of the country right now. In Wyoming, librarians are facing criminal charges for stocking informative books about sexuality and sexual health. In Florida and Pennsylvania, librarians are being forced to pull books with antiracist themes from the shelves. Patrons in Illinois are harassing librarians due to the inclusion of a widely popular book about sexual education in the collection. In Texas, police were called in to censor a book featuring a sexual experience between two young boys. Again in Illinois, a library is being dismantled by its own board. 

I just received an email from a good friend about an organization that is not even from our area deploying a small group of parents to organize loud complaints about queer books in our county’s school libraries. This same organization had success in getting books banned a couple counties south of us and have expanded their efforts. This is happening all over the country and the assailants are only growing bolder and louder, despite their small numbers. 

Books that help children and teens better understand themselves, the world around them, and even the very real issues they don’t have to face head-on are important and should be valued. These books are not harmful just because a select few individuals are afraid of their children being more comfortable with topics the adults are uncomfortable with. Sex education prevents teen pregnancy and sexual assault. Books about queerness and racism help kids navigate those issues with self-love and understanding.

If you’re a library patron, parent, or simply a member of the community who would like to help libraries (both public and school) weather these attacks, here are three simple things you can do.

Speak Out

As with any other issue or industry, decision makers hear far more from people trying to censor and ban materials than they do from those in support of keeping the materials. With the quantity and volume of complaints, it’s easy for them to start to think the book banners are in the majority. It’s time to change that perception.

Dashing off a tweet about how monstrous this or that action was after it’s complete is not enough. Librarians and administrators need to hear directly about your support before and while they endure the shouting from the book banners. 

Email your library director, library board members, city and council officials, school board members, and school administration to let them know you support the inclusion of queer, antiracist, and sex education books in their collection. 

When there are library board meetings or school board meetings, go. Administrators are being overwhelmed by vicious people who are becoming accustomed to getting their way if they are loud and nasty enough. Don’t engage with them — they want you to lash out so they can claim the high road — but be there and let the decision makers see and know your dissent. If you’re brave enough (no judgment, I abhor confrontation) sign up to speak at the meetings and calmly speak your piece.

Show Up

When your library hosts a queer author or an antiracist speaker or a drag queen storytime, let your attendance speak for itself. Make it a family outing. Attendance numbers speak louder to library administration than anyone would believe. Show the decision makers that there is a demand and a need for this kind of programming. And fill out the survey at the end of the program. 

If your library has digital programming (YouTube or Facebook videos) in these areas, get those view counts up and leave an encouraging comment.

Another metric that speaks louder than words is circulation numbers. Check those books out. If you’re a parent, read and discuss them with your kids. Then return them before the due date so someone else can benefit. I say that last part, because book banners will check these books out from the library and never return them, believing they are removing them from the collection. In reality, if the book is popular enough and the library has the resources, they’re prompting the library to buy another copy to keep up the collection.

Vote

Local elections don’t get a lot of press or social media coverage, but they can impact your day-to-day life even more so than the big, expensive elections. Check your local elections information often and know when those smaller elections are happening. Learn about the candidates as much as you can and stay informed. Talk to your friends about them and post on social media to spread awareness. And then when the time comes, if you’re able, vote for the candidates you believe will stand up to the book banners.

Many libraries are controlled by a board that is not directly elected or who serves on the board is not easily-influenced by the public. Find out how those board members are appointed and contact those decision makers, letting them know what you’d like to see from your library board.

Libraries are supposed to be a bastion of free speech and discovery, but the book banners are getting more brash and more shameless every year. If we want to stem the tide, we need to be more proactive in supporting libraries in times of increased censorship. 


For more information on supporting your local library, see 7 Ways to Support Your Local Library Right Now, 5 Ways You Can Support Your Local Public Library, and How to Fight Book Bans and Challenges: an Anti-Censorship Tool Kit.