Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.

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Libraries are committed to upholding and defending free and equal access to ideas and information, which are essential to an informed democratic society. Libraries exist to serve communities and promote the peaceful exchange of ideas. But this is under attack.

We see this most clearly in the number of books that have been banned or challenged this year. More books were challenged in the first eight months of 2022 than in the entirety of 2021 — the highest number of attempts the ALA has recorded since it began tracking the information 20 years ago.

Add to this the increasing threat of violence toward library workers and patrons, often targeted at LGBTQ-specific events or programs. The extremist group known as the Proud Boys has organized nationwide efforts to disrupt Drag Queen Story Hour programs at libraries, wearing shirts with hateful messages like “kill your local pedophile.” Library systems in six different states have been forced to close temporarily after receiving bomb threats. It is clear that library workers are on the front lines of unprecedented attempts to censor information and limit access to resources.

Earlier this year, the ALA launched #UniteAgainstBookBans in response to the rise in book challenges. The effort consists of organizations that represent parents, educators and librarians, students and readers, authors and publishers, community and advocacy organizations, businesses and workers, nonprofits and faith groups, elected officials and civic leaders and concerned citizens. Together, these groups work to advocate and call on anyone in a position of power to protect the rights of everyone to access a variety of books, in libraries and elsewhere.

The Glen Echo Group teamed up with the American Library Association to raise awareness of these issues and inspire action during the 40th anniversary Banned Books Week – an annual event that celebrates the freedom to read.

We launched a media relations campaign to draw attention to the rise in book banning attempts and its dire implications, and offer the ALA as a resource — not only for library workers navigating this challenging environment, but also to individuals everywhere who want access to a variety of information and perspectives. When building collections, library professionals make ideas widely available, but also trust individuals and families to make their own decisions about what they read and believe.

We centered our campaign around this message and timed it with the release of an ALA study on the number of reported book bans. We targeted major national outlets and local media with narratives about the harmful effects of book bans in order to reach everyday library patrons. We reached out to trade publications to dive into the nitty gritty of the study and to note that #UniteAgainstBookBans welcomes partners in its effort.

Throughout Banned Books Week, we secured media coverage in the Associated Press, The Guardian, Library Journal, The New York Times, NPR, POLITICO, Publishers Weekly, USA Today and The Washington Post. Additionally, ALA President Lessa Kananiʻopua Pelayo-Lozada and Director of ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom Deborah Caldwell-Stone appeared on The Daily Show, Fox 5 DC, NBC 2 Fort Myers and CNN Newsroom. Overall, we coordinated 39 interviews, resulting in a total of more than 134 total media hits.

Free speech and intellectual freedom are issues close to the Glen Echo Group’s heart.

When we look at book bans across the country, we see that queer and BIPOC authors and books are particularly targeted in these state and school district-wide efforts that target multiple titles at once.

As one ALA spokesperson, Deborah Caldwell-Stone said, “censoring books about drug abuse or being a gay teen doesn’t shield young people from going through those experiences - all it does is deny them the ability to access resources that might help them deal with these issues and help them become more successful adults.”

We recognize the incredible need for the accessibility of diverse thought and experiences on book shelves, and we are proud to stand with the American Library Association in their efforts to ensure that these challenged books, and all books, are available to everyone for years to come.