30 Days of Back to School: The Challenge of Intellectual Freedom

“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.

You can join us on ALA Connect, or hop on to our new Intellectual Freedom Interest Group’ listserv.

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!

About Ken Petrilli

I'm the Teen Services Librarian at the New Rochelle Public Library in New Rochelle, NY, and I'm currently co-convenor for YALSA's Intellectual Freedom Interest Group and Chair for the Baker & Taylor Conference Grant Jury. When I'm not being a librarian I'm being a heavy metal guitar player, a hopeless otaku and a general all-around pop-culture junkie.
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One Comment

  1. If you want to read a banned book, read the last book banned in the USA, namely, Fanny Hill, last banned in 1963.

    No books have been banned in the USA for about a half a century. See “National Hogwash Week.”

    Thomas Sowell says Banned Books Week is “the kind of shameless propaganda that has become commonplace in false charges of ‘censorship’ or ‘book banning’ has apparently now been institutionalized with a week of its own.” He calls it “National Hogwash Week.”

    Former ALA Councilor Jessamyn West said, “It also highlights the thing we know about Banned Books Week that we don’t talk about much — the bulk of these books are challenged by parents for being age-inappropriate for children. While I think this is still a formidable thing for librarians to deal with, it’s totally different from people trying to block a book from being sold at all.” See “Banned Books Week is Next Week.”

    And then there’s Judith Krug herself who created BBW:

    Marking 25 Years of Banned Books Week,” by Judith Krug, Curriculum Review, 46:1, Sep. 2006. “On rare occasion, we have situations where a piece of material is not what it appears to be on the surface and the material is totally inappropriate for a school library. In that case, yes, it is appropriate to remove materials. If it doesn’t fit your material selection policy, get it out of there.” Is Krug a “potential censor” who is “coming out of the woodwork”?

    Lastly, remember the ALA does not oppose book burning when doing so would interfere with its political interests. Go see what Judith Krug said about Cuban librarians: “American Library Association Shamed,” by Nat Hentoff.

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