Here’s a new page in the nation’s unfortunate book banning epidemic, and why community voices are needed more than ever to organize and fight back.
Last year in Escambia County, Florida, a region home to just over 300,000 residents in the northwesternmost corner of the Florida panhandle, a high school teacher called for the review of 116 books offered on school library shelves. Even though the school district has a process to review the challenges, and recommended all books return to shelves, board members are accused of repeatedly ignoring this formal process, maintaining the bans of ten titles, and voting to fire the school superintendent, who had supported overturning the ban.
There are over 150 books in the process of being challenged in Escambia County School District. Tonight, the school board will hear the appeals on three books that were already voted to stay in school libraries by the district committee.
: @WUWFJennie https://t.co/0Gcl9rbQAV
— WUWF Public Media (@WUWF) February 20, 2023
In response, PEN America and Penguin Random House, along with local parents and challenged authors, joined forces to file a federal lawsuit,the first of its kind to address nationwide book censorship efforts, to demand these titles be returned to school libraries.
The lawsuit states public education should ensure students’ access to a wide range of topics & diverse viewpoints. It further alleges Escambia County has attempted to exclude certain ideas by removing books that have been in the school libraries for years. https://t.co/z473jxgXyK
— PEN America (@PENamerica) June 5, 2023
While a lawsuit is a powerful tool, it is just one we can deploy in the fight against book bans, and a costly and time-consuming one at that. Community members, students and parents, educators and librarians, and clergy and health providers must all speak and act with urgency.
According to a study conducted by The Washington Post, a top reason stated by book banners in challenging books is “an explicit desire to prevent children from reading about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, nonbinary and queer lives.” Throughout the country, book challenges are looking to erode our First Amendment rights, silence the voices of the LGBTQ community and queer Black authors, and prevent the discussion of race and racism. The American Library Association reported the most number of challenged titles in 2022 since it started documenting challenges twenty years ago.
View this post on Instagram
View this post on Instagram
There has never been a more important time for communities to organize against book banners and the false and harmful messages they are spreading. GLAAD, in partnership with EveryLibrary, a nonpartisan national organization that secures funding for libraries and aids community efforts to defeat book bans, is joining the fight with a new resource. Book Bans: A Guide for Community Response and Action informs and prepares community members to organize, create authentic messages, and work with the media to ensure diverse local voices are heard by all in the community against book bans and in support of LGBTQ people and all people of color.
“This guide is urgently needed as communities face a skyrocketing number of book ban attempts across the country targeting LGBTQ books and books about race and racism,” said GLAAD President and CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis.
“We cannot allow this attempt to erase the lives of millions of Americans through book bans to continue,” warned EveryLibrary Executive Director, John Chrastka. “That’s why we’re committed to providing pro-bono resources to communities who are fighting back. I know this guide will help hundreds of communities respond to the attack on their First Amendment rights and the rights of their LGBTQ friends and family.”
GLAAD’s guide offers community members step-by-step recommendations to:
- Organize a diverse local coalition including students and GSA (Genders and Sexualities Alliances, AKA Gay-Straight Alliances) leaders, parents, teachers, librarians, LGBTQ advocates, authors, health professionals and clergy.
- Create fact-based and meaningful messages to inform and inspire all in the community and present to school and library boards.
- Engage news, social and local media with facts and local interview voices and resources.
- Inform all in the community including families, businesses, elected officials and taxpayers about the threat of book bans to LGBTQ and ally youth and the entire community’s safety, prosperity and reputation.
- Hold school and library boards accountable to all taxpayers, ensure proper protocol is being followed in book reconsiderations, and demand necessary reforms to end the skyrocketing and discriminatory wave of book banning.
The guide also spotlights a community success story that turned back a book ban effort in suburban New Jersey. Community organizers engaged local mental health and child psychologists, a coalition of interfaith clergy, educators, librarians and students, as well as challenged author and New Jersey native George M. Johnson to draft and deliver essays and statements shared in local and state news media and social media. Johnson’s statement was also delivered at the decisive hearing by Johnson’s mother and aunts, receiving a thunderous standing ovation. All challenged books were unanimously returned to the shelves.
View this post on Instagram
“Book bans cannot stand,” added Ellis. “LGBTQ people and books about us belong in libraries, schools and everywhere. This playbook to push back against book bans will help communities become safer, stronger, and smarter. By using the power of personal storytelling and engaging media, communities can unite with their neighbors, send a signal of welcome and acceptance, and see challenged books return to shelves. Communities who care about each reader and a future where all can be free must get the last word.”
View this post on Instagram
New data shows book banners spelling it out and losing the battle for LGBTQ acceptance. Every reader, every voice needs to show them what century this is.
— Sarah Kate Ellis (@sarahkateellis) May 23, 2023
In addition to organizing, dispelling misinformation is also a crucial step in communities’ efforts to defeat book bans. Here are a few tips to squash untruths and correct the narrative:
- Don’t repeat misinformation: People are more likely to remember outlandish false claims than the actual truth. Rather than repeating the untruth, ignore it entirely and simply respond with the facts. Support FHPS, an organization committed to protecting students’ right to read in the western Michigan communities encompassed by Forest Hills School District, offers a handbook that fact checks false narratives spread by book-banning organizations.
- Set the record straight: Create a guide tailored to your own community that dispels misinformation and offers talking points when speaking with elected officials, the media, and other community members. When organizing, create a Linktree account and include a link to the resource. Add it to your social media platforms and share snippets with a call to action: “See our new guide for more information! Link in bio.”
- Know your rights: Familiarize yourself with the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment and American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights.
- ACLU: Learn how to form a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). GSAs are a great way for students to leverage their voices to enact meaningful change in their schools.
- American Library Association: View the most frequently challenged books, get answers to frequently asked questions about book bans, learn about the importance of defeating book bans, find out how to respond to book challenges, and keep informed through their Intellectual Freedom Blog.
- Banned Books Club: Monthly virtual book club whose mission is to protect the right to read. Resources include tips for starting your own book club.
- Banned Books Week: Annual event centered around raising awareness and support for the freedom to read. Programming includes interviews with authors of challenged books and subject matter experts.
- Book Riot Censorship News Roundup: Archive of Book Riot’s weekly censorship news review. Stay up-to-date on book censorship threats around the country and learn how to defeat them.
- Books Unbanned – Brooklyn Public Library: Offers teens and young adults aged 13-21 nationwide a free eCard, providing access to their entire eBook collection.
- Join the Brooklyn Public Library Intellectual Freedom Teen Council. Meet teens ages 13-18 from across the country, discuss book challenges and work together on anti-censorship advocacy.
- Books Unbanned – Seattle Public Library: Offers teens and adults aged 13-26 nationwide access to their entire eBook and audiobook collection.
- EveryLibrary: Nonprofit organization that employs various means to secure funding for libraries. Groups that start a campaign on Fight for the First will gain access to support and training from EveryLibrary, as well as help with gaining exposure.
- Fight for the First: With the support of EveryLibrary, Fight for the First provides organizers with tools to help them get started in creating a group, a petition to gain support, events and ways to communicate with campaign followers.
- GLAAD 20 Under 20: Learn about queer youth recognized for their advocacy efforts in entertainment and media. Included in this list are Cameron Samuels and Jack Petocz, two outstanding individuals who have cast a spotlight on the dangers of book bans.
- National Coalition Against Censorship: Learn the reasons behind the attempted censorship of books and discover resources to fight back, including a toolkit written especially for students and parents.
- PEN America: Provides research, reports and FAQs about book challenges in schools and their threat to First Amendment rights. Each year, PEN America publishes an Index of School Book Bans, noting which books are being censored and where.
- Unite Against Book Bans: Download a toolkit that features talking points, answers to commonly asked questions, and tools and resources to help you organize, work with the media, petition lawmakers, and grow awareness.
- Recently released data from the American Library Association noted a record 1,269 censorship attempts in 2022, nearly double the 729 reported in 2021, the most seen in the more than 20 years the ALA has been capturing this information.
- 2,571 titles were targeted, up 38% from 2021;
- A majority of challenged books were about or written by LGBTQ people and people of color;
- 90% of censorship attempts targeted multiple books, while 40% involved 100 or more titles.
- PEN America found 96% of book challenges were initiated without the requisite written forms as most district policies officially require.
- PEN America’s 2021-2022 Index of School Bans found:
- 41% highlighted LGBTQ topics or featured LGBTQ characters;
- 40% featured characters of color;
- 21% addressed matters pertaining to race and racism;
- 22% included sexual content.
- Center for American Progress: “These censorship efforts require tens of thousands of hours from teachers, librarians, and administrators to review the books and implement a system of censorship—all at a time when school resources are already stretched thin, and states across the country are facing teacher and staff shortages.”
- A poll commissioned by the EveryLibrary Institute and conducted by Embold Research found that of 1,123 registered voters polled, 75% opposed book bans.
American Library Association: “The right to speak and the right to publish under the First Amendment has been interpreted widely to protect individuals and society from government attempts to suppress ideas and information, and to forbid government censorship of books, magazines, and newspapers as well as art, film, music and materials on the internet. The Supreme Court and other courts have held conclusively that there is a First Amendment right to receive information as a corollary to the right to speak.”