By: Kristin Dages,
District Media Technology Coordinator
Hudson City Schools
With the current “trend” nationwide toward school library book banning, some days it feels like we’re in some darker version of the 1984 movie, Footloose. With that said, we’ve never been in a better place to combat the ever-looming attempt of censorship regardless of how massive the effort is to create barriers of access.
Below are a few resources that our school library department has relied heavily on to combat censorship in the past six months.
A Little Background
In September, our department fielded challenges on Gender Queer and Lawn Boy (both Alex Award winners). After an investigation about whether board policy was followed in purchasing these materials and having administration and a committee discuss the titles, we're currently looking at being one of the few districts in the state to keep both of them on our shelves. We've been working hard over the past years to update our collections to focus on DEI and create inclusive collections K-12 while also updating our selection policies to reflect and support that initiative. We feel that fighting these challenges is crucial to that work, and we want to make sure that we're even more prepared for the next one.
Preparation is Key
The Selection Policy
One of the most important resources we have as school librarians is the Selection Policy which speaks to “the why” for every title on our shelf. It also speaks to how library material selection is far different from classroom instructional material selection. We updated our selection policy in 2018 to include more diverse language, promote an inclusive collection and list resources we use to choose library materials. We used the ALA toolkit to assist us in the updated version and, although we still plan to revise and improve it even more, we know that having an updated policy helped in our current challenges. Add your district’s policy to this form, and gain access to one another’s policies around the state.
The Reconsideration Procedure
Along with the selection policy in place, it is worth the time and preparation to ensure your district has a challenge procedure that removes any initial layers of possible censorship. This would include an administrator being able to make the decision after an initial review like our’s does (something we hope to change in the future). Luckily, we currently have extremely supportive administrators who see the value in challenged library titles going to a committee for a larger discussion with all stakeholders rather than immediately banning a book. We hope to update this on our end in the future though as that could always change. Also, be sure to have the specific breakdown of the challenge committee that will be formed as a result of a materials challenge so there’s little confusion when beginning the important process of choosing who is a part of the committee.
Challenge Form: Essential to help the district understand the concerns
Challenge Committee Member form: Helpful to committee members in understanding their role and guiding productive dialogue
Any time we have a challenge, I immediately reach out to ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom and submit the title/s being challenged. They are an invaluable resource for support that we, as librarians, should support each year. If you don’t read anything else from this blog, read this post that they recently put out in response to the current influx of challenges around the nation.
“Although certain titles are trendy targets now, book challenges will be an issue for the long run. That’s because, ultimately, no book is the perfect fit for every reader, especially works that tackle difficult topics reflecting real-world circumstances. But one reader’s objection is not a license to restrict all other readers from the book.”
ALA reiterated that we’re far from alone in this #FReadom Fight, as our fellow Texas librarians have called it. After updating ALA on our district’s current challenges, they sent the aforementioned blog post and a letter of support to our administration and board of education members. We as the trained school librarians are the best resource to prepare our administrators in case concerns arise regarding our curated collections. The more we’re involved, the more our students will benefit. After all, having the books on our shelves is not about us. It’s about our students who need access to these titles. Let me say that again…having the books on our shelves is not about us. It’s about the students! #CheckYourBiases
One other resource I want to call to your attention, especially if you need a refresher on best practices in collection development, is INFOhio’s collection development course. It offers three hours of professional development within their Library Pathway. Our department did this together to stay current and spark great discussions about meeting the needs of our students and staff K-12.
Who knows where this national flood of attempted censorship will take us. As a department we’ve discussed the fear of the underlying effects, such as librarians being too afraid to purchase certain titles because they see them as controversial or hot topics. It is hard work but picture one student each day who needs these titles on the shelf…they’re why we do what we do. It’s not about us. It’s about them. With libraries offering voluntary choice in reading, we know that not every book is for everyone; we must build libraries for all and overcome the challenges and fear that seek to destroy inclusive collections. Hopefully, the policies you have in place will allow you to do just that!
Don’t forget! Submit your district policies here, and let’s build a resource from which all of us can learn.
If you’ve read this far and want some more resources, check out Martha Hickson's SLJ article. Absolutely worth the time!
Please reach out with any questions, and keep fighting the good fight for our students’ right to read.
District Media Technology Coordinator
Hudson City Schools