It is good that our work with students may get easier, too, because there are other aspects of our work that are about to get more difficult. Already we have seen more visible book challenges in Massachusetts during the first six weeks of school than there have been in the last three years, they are appearing in the news, on the MSLA listserv, and in conversations. The challengers are well organized and intent on their mission.
The MSLA Board is also in the process of revamping and adding to the Intellectual Freedom resources we have available on our website. In the near future we will be adding some draft language for you to use when responding to inquiries from citizens and administrators, as well as links to other useful information.
The most important thing I can say to our members: WE ALL NEED TO PREPARE FOR A CHALLENGE. Given the evidence, it is highly likely that at some point soon, you will need to respond to an inquiry about titles in your collection, even if that inquiry does not turn into a formal challenge. Here’s what you can and should do NOW:
- If your school / district does not have a formal Selection/Reconsideration Policy, double your efforts to get one. Some districts have expressed that they do not want to formally adopt this policy at the school committee level because such an action might be seen as too binding. In the current political and cultural climate, challenges will occur whether there is a policy or not. Advocate for one: it is much better to have one and be prepared. Create a policy for your library and spur conversations with administration about the issue.
- If you do have a formal policy, refamiliarize yourself with it. Stick to the procedures and ensure stakeholders know they need to be followed. Make sure teachers and administration are aware that there is a protocol for reviewing a book and taking it off the shelf. Consider looping in your union representatives.
- Selection process is selection policy. Be able to articulate why you bought the books you did. Use this as an opportunity to look at what other libraries have.
- It is helpful to be aware of the most challenged books. Be an asset to people who want to discuss them. Keep the conversation on content, level, and curriculum connections, and speak to the school library’s important role in providing access to a wide variety of materials.
- Continue to use social media as a promotional and an advocacy tool but protect yourself from online harassment— librarians have experienced this. When posting, cite and connect to professional resources like MSLA and other subscriptions you use. Protect the privacy of your personal social media accounts. It is prudent to limit use of your work email when discussing some matters, especially considering the uptick in Freedom of Information Act requests. We are always professional with communication, but you can change which address you use to communicate with MSLA by following these directions if you want to keep MSLA communications to a personal address. As we continue our migration to Wild Apricot, we will be increasing our privacy on the listserv by requiring a login to write a post.
- Connect with your public library. If you're getting inquiries or challenges, there’s a chance that inquiries have been made in town too. Bridge gaps to your local assets who can be supportive in these matters and keep them in the loop.
I have lost track of the number of conversations I have had about this issue with colleagues that have included tears. It is important to acknowledge that these types of challenges to our profession and to ourselves feel very stressful and take an emotional toll. Simply being here to provide support for one another at this time is one of the very best ways we can help. I ask you to stand strong on behalf of our most vulnerable students, the ones who most need to see themselves reflected in our collections. We do this for them, and for all of our students who we know benefit from windows and mirrors. Our students have the First Amendment right to select their own reading materials and to access a diversity of ideas. We will fight for them and for their rights. It is the most necessary and important work we will do all year, and our leadership welcomes the chance to help.