Soft Censorship Scenarios – What Would You Do?

Last month, the AASL/ALSC/YALSA Joint Committee shared soft censorship self-reflection questions to help us to gauge our understanding and feelings about censorship and self-censorship. This month, we’re offering scenarios to think through and prepare for these types of situations. We encourage you to use these scenarios to start the conversation with your department, PLC, or even your administrators. Talking through the scenarios will help you to avoid being blindsided if (when) a situation arises.

  • When shelving manga, you want to forward face titles, but avoid using those that show two characters that seem male and very close to each other as the titles to display.
  • Administration directs you to consider the fact that you live in a “very conservative community” as you complete your book orders. Your selection policy states that you will provide materials for diverse perspectives and populations. How do you respond?
  • Teacher asks if you have “the book that tells teenagers how to commit suicide” (which you determine is Thirteen Reasons Why) and asks why you would have this book when you respond that it is in the collection. 
  • Colleague hides titles on controversial subjects and/or checks out copies of books challenged elsewhere (for extended periods so they are not accessible to students). 
  • When weeding, you consider including titles that are controversial or might “get you in trouble” rather than just those you’d normally weed. Are you weeding based on personal biases or preferences or according to set criteria?   
  • Your director asks you to relocate a display because the content is offensive to some patrons.
  • Immediately after a board member visits your school, your principal tells you the superintendent has asked that you relocate the PRIDE flag in your library to a less conspicuous location (or from the school). 
  • Feedback on programming plans from your board include consideration of potential “blowback” from community members “on certain topics.”  How do you respond?
  • Administration for your school/district is concerned about new laws regarding potentially controversial topics in books and directs your teachers to remove all books from their classrooms unless they know they are in your school library catalog.  You are asked to spearhead a program to determine how teachers can determine which of their books are in the catalog effectively.
  • A new book order has just come in and you are selecting books to advertise to middle school students via Schoology groups. One of the books is recommended for 8th grade and up. You have not read the book but the reviews hint it has romantic (and other)  content that leads you to feel that it is indeed a title suitable for 8th graders but not necessarily the majority of 6th graders. Do you not advertise it through Schoology, do you include in the post that is geared towards older students (noting mature content), or do you advertise it as normal on Schoology since your library collection serves 6-8th grades. (The book meets your selection policy and is representative of your population.)
  • A grade level PLC is working on a unit on memoirs. You notice that the projects on which the students are working are all about persons whose lives include  “comfortable” topics and learn that some persons (or groups of persons) were removed from options offered by some teachers. 
  • You are discussing a book with a colleague and ask how the students responded to a certain part of the book, to which the colleague responds, “I just leave that part out.”  

These scenarios have been compiled from stories shared with us by our colleagues and from personal experience. We’re hoping to gather as many as possible so that we can all learn from others’ experiences. We’re stronger together. Please help us crowd-source this and additional questions here:

Author: AASL/ALSC/YALSA Joint Committee on School Library/Public Library Cooperation

Categories: Intellectual Freedom

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1 reply

  1. This is great work. The use of scenarios as conversation starters with colleagues allows us to think ahead within a safe, intellectually driven environment. The reality in which these issues will come up is so driven by manufactured outrage that reflection is all but impossible.

    I do hope that we as a profession can engage in this critical work, but also find the time and compassion to acknowledge that soft censorship is happening. And why. Our colleagues are facing incredible pressures in many parts of the country. Threats of jail time, fines, and even violence are absolute realities. It is important to do all that we can to prepare our intellectual considerations and answers to the soft censorship scenarios. But I also hope that we can empathize with those who falter in the face of unprecedented threats.

    Use these tools proactively. Celebrate those who are thrust into being the face and voice of our shared challenges. But also make sure you take time to care for yourself. The trauma is real.

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