How We Started
In our previous post, we shared how the #FReadom hashtag was created and its purpose. Hashtag takeover day left our #FReadom Fighters cohort feeling excited, empowered, and wondering what was next. It was SO uplifting to see so many on social media sharing the impact books had on each of us personally. It was also amazing to have a community of readers come together for the #FReadom #txlege Twitter hashtag takeover. The hashtag takeover also engaged authors, students, parents, and organizations. We were inspired and motivated to do more and fight for #FReadom.
However, soon after this inspirational day, Texas Governor Greg Abbott reached out via Twitter to the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) regarding concerns about materials in school libraries. In response, TASB replied to Governor Abbott’s letter with this response noting that TASB has no regulatory control over school districts or school libraries and sharing that it is up to school districts and the Texas regulatory agencies like the Texas Education Agency (TEA), the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC), and the State Board of Education (SBOE) to develop policies around educational resources. Governor Abbott then shared this request that TEA, TSLAC, and SBOE “develop statewide standards to prevent the presence of pornography and other obscene content in Texas public schools, including in school libraries” because he saw TASB as “abdicating” their responsibility.
What Happened Next
So what did we do next? At first, we thought we needed a place to curate resources, so we launched the #FReadom website. We knew challenges were happening in a few places around the state and the country, and we saw more and more social media posts cropping up and parents attending school board meetings expressing concerns about books.
In addition, we saw a rise in people talking about pornography and obscenity in school library collections. We believe that school libraries do not have obscene or pornographic materials and using these terms to describe books, singular words, or small portions of a book is a tactic to undermine the value of books, public education and educators, particularly school libraries and school librarians. For more information on how to respond to these comments, visit the “Helpful Responses to FAQ.”
Our #FReadom group discussed the continued spread of fear in the public, parents, and community atmosphere and how it could cause school librarians to start self-censoring. We knew we needed to continue to help school librarians feel less isolated and confident in their professional roles and in continuing to build collections that represent all students. We are all passionate about defending intellectual freedom, student access to information, and the right to read.
How It’s Going
Our small group of organizers, working in the evenings and on weekends from home and often in our pajamas, have been working on public and secret actions to support readers, reading, books, school libraries, and librarians. On December 3, 2021, authors and creators shared fan mail, fan art, texts, social media messages, and more about how their books moved their readers.
We created a Twibbon for social media users to put on their profile pictures to show their support of #FReadom. We have created multiple images for use on social media to celebrate books and reading. We also partnered with Keen Bee Studios who took our logo and designed a T-shirt and a whole collection of items for purchase–and 15% of the proceeds goes to the Texas Library Association Whitten Intellectual Freedom Fund. The items to purchase as well as all the images, Twibbon, and more are available through our website.
We have been working with individual librarians and school districts to find their local school board policies and help remind administrators of those policies. We are seeing many districts and administrators react in ways that disregard their own policies. Many school districts are following policy, but it’s important all school librarians know their selection policies and reconsideration policies backwards and forwards. School librarians need to find a librarian thought partner to practice scenarios with appropriate responses.
When librarians hear about or experience challenges, attend school board meetings where open comment is being used as a tool to grandstand by taking pieces of a novel out of context, or see postings of limited parts of books on social media to construct a narrative, they need to remember this isn’t a fight about a specific book. This fight is about defending our student rights to book access. We rely on our policies, process, and our professionalism to defend the books. Our students have the #FReadom of access and choice under the first amendment. “In the Supreme Court case Island Trees School District v. Pico (1982), the Court held that the First Amendment limits the power of junior high and high school officials to remove books from school libraries because of their content.” You can read about other notable First Amendment court cases, including Island Trees School District v. Pico, on the ALA website.
It’s important to be proactive versus reactive; reactiveness typically comes from an emotionally charged place, whereas proactiveness allows for calm preparation without urgency hovering over the learning. So what can #FReadom Fighters do?
An important action is to communicate and share support for book access. Share important points such as the following:
- Acknowledge a parent’s right to choose for their own child, but also share the importance of maintaining access to books for others.
- Share how access to information and books is a game-changer in student achievement; the school library is a critical access point for books, especially for readers that don’t live close to a public library.
- Share how book censoring disproportionately affects kids living in poverty; not all readers have reliable transportation or an adult support system to navigate getting to the public library.
We want #FReadom supporters to make strategic moves and highlight positive things happening in their own community regarding literacy. Encourage students, teachers, parents, and community members to share a favorite book and how it impacted them as readers. We must band together to build community understanding of the importance of book access. Some ways to do this include:
- Writing to your local school board and calling your state legislative representative; share how books and access to school libraries has impacted you or a learner you know.
- Thanking your school board for following their policies and protecting the rights of students to read.
- Writing to your school principal or school librarian (who can share it with key people) how important it is to you, your child, family, or community in ensuring access to information and books.
We want to invite EVERYONE to be part of the #FReadom movement. We are defending intellectual freedom, students’ right to read, and access to information. In addition, this is also a prime opportunity to honor children’s and young adult literature. We have come so far in representation in books and in providing accurate information to students in our school libraries. We need to celebrate the importance of diverse literature and make sure it stays in our school libraries so all students feel represented and valued.