On October 25, Texas Republican State Representative Matt Krause sent a letter to the Texas school districts asking if they carried any of 850 books listed as well as any other that may include material that could make students feel “discomfort.” The books listed were overwhelmingly by authors of color and/or included LGBTQ characters.
A week later, on November 4, a group of Texas librarians responded with the #FReadom Fighters Twitter campaign. They tagged the Texas Legislature with testimonials about books that have positively changed their lives. Students, families, and authors joined in to decry censorship and book banning attempts and defend libraries as well as access to information.
2021 was a devastating year for censorship in U.S. libraries, especially school libraries. LGBTQ books have been particularly targeted, often equated with pornography and pedophilia. School board meetings have become charged and even dangerous places, with teachers and librarians accused of crimes for carrying sex eduction or LGBTQ books. Alongside the anger of the mask mandate debates, some school board members have reported feeling unsafe even walking to their car.
This increase in book challenges is not a fluke. Groups have sprung up to organize them, trading talking points and even graphics to print out for poster boards. Once a book is accused of being “pornographic” in one district, that book will be challenged in other districts and states, with the same talking points parroted — whether or not they’re accurate.
These last two years have been difficult for teachers and librarians. They’ve dealt with increased risk of COVID, ever-changing safety procedures, sudden school closures and openings requiring redoing lesson plans over and over again, increased vitriol in school board meetings from anti-maskers and book banners — on top of the usual pandemic fatigue, fear, and grief we’ve all been dealing with.
We have to be as organized as the book banners. We also need to show that despite them being very, very loud, they are not the majority. Most people support libraries. Most people support students’ access to books. Most people oppose censorship from the government of people’s reading choices. We need school boards and library boards to hear that more than they hear people accusing them of crimes for doing their jobs and protecting students’ rights.
It’s no surprise that a group of librarians is organized, but #FReadom has made it incredibly easy to participate — and you don’t need to be in Texas to do it! These book challenges are not going away. If your district has already been affected, the school board needs to hear that you support the freedom to read. If your district hasn’t yet been affected, it’s even more important: you can help prevent censorship by demonstrating that there is support for the work librarians are doing. That way, when the book challengers come (and they will), librarians and school board members can provide that evidence.
There are plenty of ways to participate. You can email your own school board, one of a school district near you, and/or one that’s facing book challenges. You can email the superintendent or school board members (or just one member, especially if they’ve been fighting against censorship attempts from other school board members).
There is a template for general support of libraries, which outlines how valuable stocking a wide variety of reading materials is and describes librarians’ expertise in selecting books. Another template is for book challenges, reminding school boards of their existing policies as well as that “The Supreme Court ruled materials may not be removed from libraries just for the ideas contained in them.” Finally, there is a template for authors to use.
More information can be found on the #FReadom Fighters website, including a link to automatically copy the template into a new email on Gmail.
And if you’re looking for other ways to oppose censorship and book bans, these posts will be helpful: