In the United States, you can’t escape news of the nation-wide movement to ban library books. Almost daily, social media, television, and newspapers have stories about books being removed from library shelves and legislation that could mean jail time for librarians. You want the library to be a safe place for all, and now it doesn’t even feel safe for you. All this is happening and you’ve barely had time to get your library program going in the new school year.
How do you manage within this turmoil? What choices should you be making?
My recommendation is to anchor yourself and use the resources available from the American Library Association (ALA) as well as the American Association of School Librarians (AASL). Start by reviewing ALA’s Code of Ethics. Number 7 and the newly added number 9 are of particular importance at this time.
Number 7 reads: “We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources.”
Number 9 states: “We affirm the inherent dignity and rights of every person. We work to recognize and dismantle systemic and individual biases; to confront inequity and oppression; to enhance diversity and inclusion; and to advance racial and social justice in our libraries, communities, profession, and associations through awareness, advocacy, education, collaboration, services, and allocation of resources and spaces.”
Those are powerful and often difficult principles to maintain. Number 7 is the basis for the idea that a library should have something in it to offend everyone, including the librarian who purchased it. Number 9 flies in the face of the restrictions and bannings centered on LGBTQ+ themes and the history of racial injustice in the United States.
The Library Bill of Rights adds another dimension by listing eight statements that should be part of library policies. It defines what libraries must do – and not do – to provide equitable services to all. They further delineate what is in the Code of Ethics.
Additionally, school librarians can also look to our Common Beliefs as given in the AASL Standards Framework for Learners. The fifth Common Belief is “Intellectual Freedom is every learner’s right.” The explanatory sentence states: “Learners have the freedom to speak and hear what others have to say rather than allowing others to control their access to ideas and information….” These statements represent the core purpose of librarianship. They are what guide what we purchase, how we arrange our facility and resources, and the displays we create. It is who we are.
This is where courage comes into the picture. You don’t have to do any of it. If you choose not to buy a book because you don’t approve of the author’s viewpoint, you won’t be drummed out of the profession. These documents carry no legal weight. No one even needs to know how you made your choices. It is up to you to decide how deeply you are committed to the ethics of our profession. You are the one who must make choices based on what could be the personal cost of that decision.
Everyone has different things at stake. I, and other librarians, won’t fault you even as we hope you are willing to hold these ethics. Sometimes you figure out ways to bend them in order to do the best you can. Holding them can be impossible in some situations, but the workarounds are better than nothing.
No matter where you live, whether it’s a liberal or conservative community, challenges are now almost inevitable. You need to be prepared for them, or you will not be able to respond in a way to get the best possible results for your students, teachers, and yourself. As always, planning is required.
Build your plan around your resources and your allies What resources do you have on hand? You should have a board approved selection and reconsideration policy. If not board approved, the one you have been using is a good start. Even better, work with the ALA Selection and Reconsideration Policy Toolkit for Public, School, & Academic Libraries.
Be familiar with the ALA Challenge Support page. It gives you all the go-to information you need as soon as soon as you hear about a challenge. Also know what help your state association provides.
Look for allies among your teachers, administration, and community. Well before a challenge arrives, let people know how you make your book selections. Share the Code of Ethics and Library Bill of Rights. Discuss the library as being a safe place for all. If – and probably when—you are faced with a challenge, these are the ones who will show up for you and come to Board meetings as needed.
It has never been easy to uphold the ethics of our profession, but it has become much harder in the past year. The issue is not going away. Understand our ethics, be as courageous as you can, reach out for help and support when you need it, and plan so you are prepared.