How to Handle Book Challenges
This month, many of the state’s media specialists gathered at COMO (Council of Media Organizations) Conference. Kathy Pillatzki, Assistant Director at Henry County Library System was there and is guest blogging about one of the conference’s topics: book challenges.
I attended an update on intellectual freedom issues by Deborah Caldwell-Stone, of the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom. The whole session was interesting, but one thing she shared really jumped out at me:
Last year, the journalism school at the University of Missouri conducted a study to give their students experience in filing Freedom of Information requests. They contacted every school district in the state and asked for any records regarding book challenges or bans during the previous year. When all of the responses were received and compiled, they were sent to ALA as a courtesy. When the records were compared to the ALA OIF records for the same year, it was found that only 12% of the actual challenges were reported to ALA.
Two other states have completed similar projects, with similar findings.
As you know, ALA monitors and maintains records of book challenges and bans in the US, and issues an annual list of most-frequently challenged books. If the Missouri study is representative (and it seems to be, since it was replicated in other states with similar results), that means that ALA’s data and the annual list are based on a very small fraction of the actual book challenges in this country.
I am sharing this as Vice-Chair of the Georgia Library Association Intellectual Freedom interest group to remind everyone that ALA depends on librarians and others “on the scene’ to report book challenges to them. This includes libraries of all kinds, not just school libraries. Except when a case gets a lot of publicity, they don’t know about challenges unless we tell them. Those who would ban books would probably prefer that it be done quietly, so it’s up to us to make sure challenges are documented and tracked accurately.
Ms. Caldwell-Stone asked me to emphasize that reporting can be completely anonymous if you choose. Even if you use your name, the Office of Intellectual Freedom keeps that information strictly confidential. Your identifying information is not even shared with other ALA departments.
In the unfortunate event that you encounter a book challenge or ban, please take a few minutes to report it to ALA.