Supporting Each Other: Book Challenges

On September 16, 2022, the American Library Association (ALA) reported that “total book challenges in 2022 set to exceed 2021 record.” ( I know that school librarians around the country were not surprised by this news. Many school librarians have been facing challenges and working to support their learners’ freedom to read.

The rise in book challenges is attributed to coordinated, national efforts to censor materials and displays. These efforts have specifically targeted books about or by historically underrepresented or marginalized groups. The rhetoric and tactics of the groups challenging materials are generally loud and may involve making false and/or negative statements about library staff. In some instances, community members have filed or have threatened to file police reports against librarians. The false statements and accusations feel especially hurtful; because school librarians are dedicated to protecting and supporting their learners, which is the opposite of the statements being made.

While at the Wyoming Libary Association Conference last week, I attended a session about Intellectual Freedom presented by the Youth Services Coordinator of the Campbell County Public Library. This library had experienced extreme pressure to censor books and criminal complaints were filed against the library. (

Darcy compared the abusive tactics used against professionalism and librarians to those used in abusive relationships. She listed some of the tactics as follows:

  • Character Assassination – smear campaign to destroy credibility as well as to dissuade supporters from speaking up
  • Disinformation – information in a purposeful attempt to mislead and persuade readers/listeners
  • Privacy violations – use of personal or restricted information to invalidate or smear an individual in public
  • Threats – use of various means of intimidation to manipulate behavior
  • Gaslighting – use of lies and dishonesty to deny what happened and/or make you question reality
  • Triangulation – the technique of pitting people against one another
  • Emotional manipulation – use of all of the above techniques to elicit emotional responses in victims – leading to reactions that can, again, destroy their credibility

Campbell Country Public Library did not feel prepared to address these tactics; but, looking back had some informal advice for others. While this advice applies to public libraries, there are some useful takeaways for school librarians:

  • Always consider in this order: personal safety, safety of co-workers, safety of patrons, customer service
  • Know the library mission and policies
  • Keep documentation of events
  • Keep the board (or appropriate administrators) informed of events
  • Protect privacy and social media and use work email appropriately
  • Provide standard phrases which can be used when confronted by patrons
  • Practice (role play) scenarios. It is easier to respond if it is something you have said before.
  • Don’t engage in negative social media; however, do make posts or provide information to correct disinformation
  • Provide staff private safe spaces to vent
  • Provide opt-in counseling services

I believe that while school librarians are prepared to speak to individual parents about concerns regarding their own children’s reading; they are not prepared for the coordinated efforts to ban books and the abusive tactics being used by some community members. The crowd-sourced resource document: Resources for School Library Professionals for Action and Safety During Challenging Times is not a formal AASL resource, but was developed and shared with the hopes of providing a starting point of information for school librarians facing challenges.

In addition, we are stronger when we come together as a community to provide support for each other. Thus, the AASL October Town Hall (October 12 at 6 pm central) has been planned as an opportunity for school librarians to come together to discuss the current status of book challenges and the impact on school librarians and our learners, and to share some ideas and resources for moving forward. Registration for this event is required.  Let’s come together during this unprecedented time of book challenges and polarized communities to support each other and our essential work with our learners.

Author: Kathy Lester

Categories: Intellectual Freedom

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