In a packed room at the American Library Association’s annual conference on Saturday, Jamie Gregory, a school librarian from South Carolina, received a standing ovation from her fellow librarians. She had just shared her story of facing harassment and threats for having books about LGBTQ+ topics in her library.
“I’m just not going to quit. I’m not going to let them call me that, especially when I’ve worked my whole entire life to get to where I am,” said Gregory, who was named the 2022 South Carolina school librarian of the year.
Gregory was one of the speakers at a training session on fighting book bans, a major focus of this year’s conference. “The world’s largest library event” provides training and education for librarians to defend intellectual freedom and ensure the freedom to read, according to the conference website.
The conference hosts thousands of librarians, library staff, authors, publishers and educators as several states push to restrict access to books in schools and libraries — overwhelmingly those about race, ethnicity and LGBTQ+ topics. The association in March released data showing a record 1,269 demands to censor library books in the U.S. in 2022, a 20-year high.
“Addressing book censorship and protecting library users’ intellectual freedom, protecting librarians’ ability to provide for information in their communities, is at the forefront of this year’s meeting,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom and executive director of the Freedom to Read Foundation.
One of the most challenged books of 2022 was Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, an autobiographical comic on what it means to be nonbinary and asexual. The book was the source of the firestorm against Gregory, who chose it as her favorite banned book to read aloud from a giant chair at the conference.
“It’s a library, the purpose of which is to allow readers to independently select reading material. ‘Letting’ people check out books is the whole point,” said Martha Hickson, a high school librarian from New Jersey who faced a similar challenge from parents who objected to her having books by and about queer people in her library.
Hickson said she discovered that these challenges were part of a coordinated movement advocating book banning, which has “spread like a fungus nationwide.” Organized and connected by the internet, parent groups are aiming to ban books by Black authors, LGBTQ+ books and plenty of young adult titles.
Some states have passed laws that require schools to disclose their library holdings online or limit the use of certain materials in classrooms. For example, Texas passed a law that bans books that “make students feel discomfort” based on their race or sex.
Librarians are pushing back on these attempts to censor books and curtail access to information. They are forming banned book clubs, advocating for legislation that will protect them and their workplaces, and educating their communities about the value of diverse literature.
“Books have helped young people find language to describe their lived realities and exposed them to lives and worlds beyond their own,” said Zan Romanoff, an author and journalist who writes about young adult literature. “Banning books is not only an attack on intellectual freedom, but also on empathy and understanding.”
– Librarians train to defend intellectual freedom and fight book bans at Chicago conference, Omaha World-Herald, June 25, 2023
– Librarians train to defend intellectual freedom and fight book bans, Boston.com, June 25, 2023
– In the Face of Book Banning, Librarians Are Joining Forces to Fight Back, Reader’s Digest, January 17, 2023