Standing Up for Intellectual Freedom

Managing all stages of the book challenge process

June 1, 2022

Photo of Librarian's Library columnist Andy Gooding-Call

With book challenges on the rise across the country, columnist Andy Gooding-Call recommends six titles for libraries experiencing all types of challenges.

Cover of The Library’s Legal Answers for Meeting Rooms and Displays

The Library’s Legal Answers for Meeting Rooms and Displays
By Mary Minow, Tomas A. Lipinski, and Gretchen McCord
Intellectual freedom in public libraries encompasses more than books. This handy guide, written by a trio of lawyer-librarians, covers these concerns in a direct, plainspoken manner. Using a Q&A format, the authors present succinct legal information for libraries facing issues such as hate groups requesting meeting rooms or religious organizations protesting displays with queer themes. It was published years before First Amendment audits and anti-masking, but its recommendations remain relevant. Positions are also fully backed up by court decisions, neatly cited by the authors. Every director should have a copy in their professional library. ALA Editions, 2016. 32 p. $25. 978-0-8389-1440-3. (Ebook only.)

Cover of Teaching Banned Books: 32 Guides for Children and Teens, 2nd editionTeaching Banned Books: 32 Guides for Children and Teens, 2nd edition
By Pat R. Scales
This go-to list of banned books is ideal for the classroom. Designed for teachers but also ideal for school librarians, the title benefits greatly from its author’s experience in countering censorship. The foreword to the first edition, by children’s author Judy Blume, is included here but there are changes in this update: The revised edition more than doubles the number of books profiled, each with a synopsis, list of discussion questions, activities, and read-alikes. Many books listed are children’s classics but the second edition includes books published as recently as 2018. Themes of bullying, racism, and otherness abound in this selection, though it also touches on LGBTQ identity, body image, and cultural differences. ALA Editions, 2019. 200 p. $44.99. PBK. 978-0-8389-4638-1. (Also available as an ebook.)

Cover of Intellectual Freedom Stories from a Shifting LandscapeIntellectual Freedom Stories from a Shifting Landscape
Edited by Valerie Nye, ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom
Focused on real-life stories from the field, these essays run the gamut from traditional book censorship to programming challenges. The book is organized into sections, each with a set of discussion questions. It’s an ideal book for library students, as it lends itself to small group work and discussion. It’s also good mental preparation for new professionals coming into the library field. A few stories are truly terrifying. While some essays offer practical tips and advice, others simply relate the circumstances of the particular intellectual freedom story as it happened and describe the justifications for the actions and reactions of the library and librarians involved. ALA Editions, 2020. 208 p. $49.99. PBK. 978-0-8389-4726-5. (Also available as an ebook.)

Cover of True Stories of Censorship Battles in America’s Public LibrariesTrue Stories of Censorship Battles in America’s Public Libraries
Edited by Valerie Nye and Kathy Barco
This nuanced collection provides variations on the standard censorship narrative. Most significant here are situations where a library staff member takes on the unlikely role of self-censor. Two essays about Native collections are also critical reads for anyone dealing with culturally sensitive material. Several essays discuss confrontations so intense they could be traumatic for some readers. As with many other recent books, there are stories of patrons who become so incensed by library material that they target and harass specific librarians in public forums and online. The main takeaway is that strong, established policies and support from upper management are key to overcoming a censorship experience. ALA Editions, 2012. 200 p. $58. PBK. 978-0-8389-1130-3. (Also available as an ebook.)

Cover of Legal Reference for Librarians: How and Where to Find the AnswersLegal Reference for Librarians: How and Where to Find the Answers
By Paul D. Healey
In legal reference situations, libraries may decline to answer questions that are out of their depth. This title provides clear, concise definitions of common legal terms and describes the types of library patrons who seek legal information. The problem of liability dominates the first section of the book, a veritable wealth of information about legal questions that many public librarians likely have never encountered. Above all, this guide encourages libraries to lean on the role of information provider rather than subject expert. The book’s pointers are concrete and granular, down to sample scripts for patron interactions. It is a must-have title for law libraries, and public reference desks should strongly consider having a copy available as well. ALA Editions, 2014. 232 p. $72. PBK. 978-0-8389-1117-4. (Also available as an ebook.)

Cover of Beyond Banned Books: Defending Intellectual Freedom throughout Your LibraryBeyond Banned Books: Defending Intellectual Freedom throughout Your Library
By Kristin Pekoll, ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom
While focused on the need for policies to protect free expression, this book also discusses the philosophical impetus behind resisting censorship efforts affecting nonbook materials. Pekoll, assistant director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, does valuable work in applying these documents to emerging challenges in the library landscape. This context makes the book a necessary teaching tool for established library staffers facing new questions. Aside from its recommendation that staff should be trained prior to a censorship event, the book reminds readers to inform ALA when a censorship attempt is made, even if that attempt isn’t against a book. ALA Editions, 2019. 144 p. $54.99. PBK. 978-0-8389-1901-9. (Also available as an ebook.)


Challenges to nonbook materials in libraries

Censorship Beyond Books

Librarians share experiences of challenges to displays, exhibits, and more

Drag queen reads a book to children (Photo: Jennifer Ricard)

A Deeper Look: Censorship beyond Books

Confronting challenges to other library resources