Book Challenges in Alabama’s Public Schools July 24, 2013Posted by cstarkey in Check this out!.
By: Carolyn Starkey, President, Alabama School Library Association and Annalisa Keuler, Intellectual Freedom Chair, Alabama School Library Association
Journalism students at the University of Alabama and journalists at The Anniston Star recently collaborated on an interesting year-long research project with a direct link to school librarians: a study of book challenges in Alabama’s state-supported K-12 schools. This study resulted in an article and an editorial—”Shelved: Who decides which books are available in the state’s school libraries?” and “Editorial: Hiding the facts — too many Alabama school districts failed to turn over public information” –published recently in The Anniston Star that should raise red flags of concern for all school librarians and transparency in government promoters.
Firstly, the freedom to read is a fundamental principle upon which the library profession in our country is based. ALL librarians–including school librarians—have the ethical obligation to ensure access for patrons despite the very real fear of loss of employment [See Access to Resources and Services in the School Library Media Program: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights].
AASL and ALA have a wealth of resources for Freedom to Read challenges, including publications from the Freedom to Read Foundation, AASL Essential Links: Intellectual Freedom, and the What is Intellectual Freedom? brochure.
Secondly, the failure of one-third of Alabama school districts to observe transparency in their actions and practices in challenges is appalling. According to The Anniston Star, “Roughly one-third of the state’s districts provided no documentation at all—neither confirming or denying any challenges in the past five years. According to the Alabama Press Association, all public records are open for public inspection unless a statute making them confidential expressly exempts them.”
Unfortunately, when it comes to censorship and book challenges, many school systems, and even librarians, believe that communicating this type of information would be detrimental to the school. The only way that the Office for Intellectual Freedom can be prepared to defend these types of challenges is by having transparent reports from the school district. Librarians should not be afraid to communicate this information. Providing this information could help parents and community members understand our position, and could hopefully stop more challenges from happening. Another frightening by-product of book challenges is the problem of self-censorship. Librarians must keep their own fears of controversy and personal prejudices out of the collection development process. We must face these challenges head on, and be prepared to defend our professional beliefs. Hopefully this article can help start a conversation between librarians and their administrators to communicate the importance of transparency when reporting book challenges so we can continue to uphold the ideals of our profession.