Washington Post reporter Alyssa Rosenberg explains how to take an active role in opposing state and municipal book bans. National organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), American Library Association and PEN America are working to thwart book banning legislation and to get signatures for anti-censorship petitions. To object to a possible book ban, Rosenberg reports, always show up at relevant public meetings. Target your message locally. Focus on how bans waste money from increased municipal insurance to courtroom defenses. You can protest bans’ impact on education, literary freedom and parental choices, but to stop a book ban from happening, go for pocketbook issues.
- Most people surveyed say that banning some books could affect “educationally important” books.
- When fighting censorship in your community, rely on action and information that will resonate locally.
- Resources from national organizations and debates on pocketbook issues can provide a foothold for local anti-censorship efforts.
Most people surveyed say that banning some books could affect “educationally important” books.
In spite of the censorship wave targeting books at schools and libraries, a March 2023 survey by the Wall Street Journal-University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center found that 61% of respondents believe that censorship poses the risk of banning “educationally important” books and topics.
“Book lovers should take heart. The censors can be beaten.”
Public dislike of book bans crossed political affiliations.
When fighting censorship in your community, rely on actions and information that will resonate locally.
Those who wish to oppose book banning efforts must tailor their comments at public meeting to address local concerns.
For example, they could argue that banning books leads to extra cost and wastes local resources. Anti-censorship activists have sued libraries for removing or restricting access to certain books by arguing that it is against the law for “public facilities” to favor a specific political view. This means that cities can’t ban “Marxist” books or allow library internet access to “conversion therapy ministries” while filtering out sites on gay rights.
Even if a town or county wins such a lawsuit, defense attorneys and court-awarded damages can be expensive. The risk of having to go to court helped “temper” a censorship policy in League City, Texas. In Louisiana, a tip line to report people who taught or distributed censored materials was inundated with “witty, anti-censorship spam.” This wasted significant public resources.
“Make sure censors know that if they come for books and librarians, they’ll be playing defense.”
Library advocates can also point out that proposed laws making librarians “legally liable” for distribution of “certain material” could result in higher municipal insurance costs. However, in jurisdictions where banning books is gaining popularity, arguing in favor of keeping a particular book available can “backfire,” draw unwanted attention to that book from those who believe generally that “homosexuality is wrong or anti-racism is a menace,” and providing them with an argument for banning it.
Resources from national organizations and debates on pocketbook issues can provide a foothold for local anti-censorship efforts.
The American Library Association and EveryLibrary have anti-censorship campaign resources, including funds to “boost local petitions.” PEN America and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) can provide legal expertise and other resources.
“Longtime library advocates have mustered an arsenal of statistics, talking points and legal strategies to keep shelves full and fascinating.”
One anti-ban argument contends that book banning legislation circumvents parents’ authority or ability to decide what their children read. Instead of legislating parental decisions, Andrea Jamison, a former elementary school teacher and librarian, recommends that librarians simply follow the guidance of parents who may want certain books to be off limits to their kids.
People who oppose book bans need to attend state and local meetings where city, county and state legislative bodies are voting on book-banning measures. You can also join a municipal board, present a public “read-in,” or talk to public officials to get them on the record as supporting “community” libraries and freedom of speech.
About the Author
Alyssa Redmond is a Washington Post columnist who writes about culture, parenting and gender. She previously wrote for Slate and The Atlantic.com.