“They say there is strangeness too dangerous in our theaters and bookstore shelves…Those who know what’s best for us must rise and save us from ourselves…” – from “Witch Hunt” by Rush
Yes folks, it’s September, and that means two things are certain: students are back in school, and potential censors and book challengers are coming out of the woodwork. Recent challenges to Sherman Alexie’s “Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” and Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Speak” were just the first to greet the new school year. Interestingly enough, this last week of September is Banned Books Week, and therefore the perfect time think about the potential for censorship, and whether you’re ready for that challenge if it comes your way.
While we often think of Intellectual Freedom as a rather high-minded concept (and it is. don’t get me wrong…), it is, in a lot of ways, a management issue. The most important thing you can have in place to deflect censorship is an up-to-date collection development policy and a clear set of channels set up for a patron or parent to issue a challenge. Sometimes a calm explanation of your policy may be enough to deflect the issue. Many potential censors are simply concerned parents who’ve gone a touch bonkers over something they saw in a book their child was reading, and being concerned for your children’s well-being is never, EVER wrong. A little conversation on the issue can often go a long way. But some are determined, and there are folks out there with all sorts of agendas who would love to take lots of books off of our shelves. So what to do if that challenge is issued? Fear not! You’ve got lots of help…
First, check out YALSA’s Intellectual Freedom resource page. It will direct you to much of what you need to deal with and report a challenge.
ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom exists to help you, educate you, and back you up in the event of a challenge. Their resources are invaluable.
Additional resources compiled by YALSA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee are available on the YALSA Wiki:
In addition, I highly recommend you become a member of YALSA’s Intellectual Freedom Interest Group. Formerly the IF Committee, this group will be a broader and more open way for YALSA members to keep themselves and their colleagues well informed and ready to understand and face potential censors and challengers.
As Teen/YA/Secondary school librarians, we are on the front lines of Intellectual Freedom issues and book challenges more than anyone else in our profession; a quick look at the most challenged books of 2009 will tell you that (I’ve got 9 of them in my collection; how about you?). As we head into a new school year, take some time to familiarize yourself with what you need to know to respond to potential challeges. After all, as defenders of teen’s right to read, we need all the armor we can get!