Still Chilling: Censorship Beyond Banned Books

Challenges to nonbook resources are on the rise.

June 23, 2019

Laura Broderick
Laura Broderick, senior children's librarian at Pikes Peak Library District

While Banned Books Week is well known, and ALA and the Office for Intellectual Freedom are old hands at fighting challenges to books, nonbook resources are increasingly coming under fire. All of the panelists in Censorship Beyond Banned Books have had to face these issues—and they shared their tips, tricks and tools with the audience.

Kristin Pekoll, Assistant Director of ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) began the session by announcing that OIF had recorded 531 affected items in 2018—which is a step beyond just challenges. These items included books films, board games, video games, magazines and much more.

Sarah Ward, outreach librarian at Hunter College Libraries in New York City, reported that in ten and a half years, she had has a few different issues with intellectual freedom. It wasn’t until the 2016 election that she started seeing challenges from the inside, though. Ward got pushback from certain staff members for posting anything with the slightest whiff of controversy on social media, including a banned books display by a student and a “What Comes Next” post-election guide. Ward talked about being tenured and how she uses that security to advocate and push back against intellectual freedom challenges.

Laura Broderick, senior children’s librarian at Pikes Peak Library District in Colorado, discussed a challenge to a Black Lives Matter display in her children’s department.

“Black history is not history,” Broderick, said “black history is current, it is happening now.” There were both positive and negative community reactions, and one of those negative reactions eventually led to the filing of an official complaint. At a meeting with the head of library district, the associate director and more, the library realized as a group that they hadn’t talked about what things should be represented in libraries, and that they did not have plans to respond to challenges of nonbook items.

Phoebe Larson, marketing and communications director at Saint Paul (Minn.) Public Library, talked about community challenges to the library’s Drag Queen Story Hour. The library promoted it through its usual avenues, including Facebook, Twitter, and its newsletter. Within an hour, attacks on social media began. Larson reached out to the company they were working with for talking points, and then the company posted on social media that the library was getting “mega trolled.” The response was massive, with the community rallying around the library—but then the story went viral. Larson got hundreds of messages from around the country. The end result was positive, though—the event brought out huge crowds and no “haters.”

Themes that Pekoll emphasized included:

  • Be proactive! Think about possible political fallout before it happens.
  • Make sure to have support, whether from administration, colleagues, and elsewhere. Also, consider partners that can be brought on when an event goes viral.
  • Don’t put staff into a charged space without preparation; sometimes it is necessary to slow down and have conversations with staff and get administration buy-in.
  • Know your values and stand firm in them.


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