How to counter book bans: Pink tries a new approach

How to counter book bans: Pink tries a new approach

Empowering strategies and community actions to uphold intellectual freedom and combat the rise of book censorship in America

by Suswati Basu
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In a recent display of solidarity against book censorship, renowned singer Pink donated thousands of banned books during her Florida concerts, aligning with PEN America to champion the cause of freedom of expression. This act of defiance comes amid a rising tide of book challenges across the United States, sparking a national conversation on the topic. But what are people doing to counter book bans?

Why and how do we counter book bans?

Mobilising against censorship: community actions and legal challenges

Contrary to a popular misconception, censorship does not enjoy widespread support in the US. A survey conducted in August 2022 revealed that 56% of respondents opposed book removal from public school libraries based solely on individual parental objections. Echoing this sentiment, a March 2023 Wall Street Journal-NORC poll found that 61% were more concerned about the educational implications of book bans than the potential offence they might cause to students or parents.

The Washington Post highlights the often-overlooked financial implications of censorship. Legal battles ensuing from book removals or restricted access in public facilities incur significant costs, with recent cases underscoring the risk of litigation. For instance, the controversy in League City, Texas, led to a moderated censorship policy due to the looming threat of legal challenges.

In Texas, Rep. James Talarico proactively sought to amend legislation to prevent viewpoint discrimination, a move that could reveal the underlying motives of the proposed bill and potentially expose it to legal challenges. Another financial consideration for anti-censorship advocates is the heightened municipal insurance costs resulting from laws that make librarians legally accountable for disseminating certain materials.

Texas Rep. James Talarico on the separation of church and state.
Read: Pink to give away banned books at Florida gigs

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry’s initiative to establish a tip line for reporting objectionable content in libraries and schools backfired, as it was inundated with anti-censorship messages. This outcome was particularly ironic given Landry’s previous reluctance to establish a tip line for reporting clerical sex abuse due to budget constraints.

Advocates also stress the importance of highlighting the wide range of books that could fall victim to legislative overreach, citing examples from the Bible and Shakespeare to illustrate the potential consequences of parental rights taken to extremes. As columnist Alyssa Rosenberg points out, a key lesson in the fight against book bans is the simple act of showing up. This strategy proved effective in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, where a local woman’s challenge to several books was overturned due to the absence of opposition at a critical meeting.

Advocacy groups and resources: supporting the fight for intellectual freedom

Organisations like the American Library Association (ALA) and EveryLibrary are providing invaluable resources for those who want to counter book bans. These include funding for local petitions, maintaining extensive databases of challenged books, and offering legal expertise.

The ALA recommends various proactive measures such as staying informed about challenges, especially during Banned Books Week. Hence these have been adapted from the ALA’s specific guidelines so that they can be utilised all year round.

  • Stay alert and be supportive. Keep abreast of challenges to library materials. Back your librarian by reaching out to the Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) when you learn of any censorship efforts. Understanding your local library’s policies on handling these challenges is crucial. For broader insights into intellectual freedom, subscribe to the Intellectual Freedom News newsletter or check out the Journal for Intellectual Freedom and Privacy.
  • Engage in banned books activities. Participate in global celebrations of reading freedom by attending events during Banned Books Week and beyond. Libraries, schools, and bookstores worldwide host various programmes.
  • Dive deeper with webinars. These sessions offer a deeper understanding of the history and current trends in censorship, fostering a culture of literary freedom within your community.
Read: Book bans: Uncle Bobby’s Wedding sequel to be released by Sarah Brannen
  • Lead your own initiatives. Create and host your own banned books event at your school, local library, or favourite bookstore. Use resources from OIF, like First Amendment film festival ideas and creative display concepts, to inspire your event. The Banned Books Week Pinterest page also offers a wealth of creative ideas.
  • Join a virtual read-out. Participate in the Stand for the Banned Virtual Read-out by filming yourself reading excerpts from a banned book and sharing it on the Banned Books Week YouTube channel.
  • Reach out to authors. Express gratitude to authors of banned or challenged books. Find their contact details on the Dear Banned Author page and send a letter appreciating their work. Check out our interviews with authors during Banned Books Week including Scott Stuart and Sarah Brannen.
Read: Banned Books Week: a catastrophic threat to intellectual freedom
  • Contribute to the conversation. Write about censorship and banned books for the Intellectual Freedom Blog. Your submissions can include news, reviews, and opinion pieces.
  • Proclaim your support. Use a template to declare your library’s commitment to Banned Books Week and the broader cause of reading freedom.
  • Show your support visually. Purchase materials from OIF, including T-shirts, bookmarks, and posters. Utilise free downloadable graphics and logos to spread awareness on social media.
  • Voice your opinion. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, to talk about local events taking place.
Read: Artists unite against book bans: Ariana Grande, Roxane Gay join 150+ names
  • Educate yourself and others. Familiarise yourself with the history of literary censorship by reading the latest edition of “Banned Books: Defending Our Freedom to Read,” which includes a comprehensive list of challenged and banned books.
  • Spread the word. Use the hashtag #BannedBooks on social media to advocate for the right to read.
  • Public advocacy. Promote the importance of unrestricted reading through local public radio stations and by writing letters to editors, library directors, and school principals. Engage in conversations with peers about the importance of literary choice.
  • Exercise your rights. Explore banned books personally and encourage discussions on them in your book club. There are large quantity of banned books club you can find.
  • Join the legal fight. Support the Freedom to Read Foundation, dedicated to the legal and financial defence of intellectual freedom, particularly in libraries.

Beyond protests: educational approaches to counter book bans

Brittany Collins, an author with over 40 peer-reviewed and public-facing articles, advises against a binary good/bad approach to the book ban debate. Instead, she told How To Be Books that controversial literature could be used as a tool for fostering critical thinking and research skills, thereby empowering young people to form their own “nuanced” opinions. Collins, who is a Senior Program Manager at Write the World, says this can be done through informed activities including op-ed writing activities on the topic, researching the history of book bans, creating book trailers exploring banned books, and informative texts about the psychology underlying book banning.

“We can create meaningful assignments that center youth voice and, instead of telling young people what to think and not think about, offer them a platform from which, through informed writing, reading, and research, they can take their own, more nuanced stances.”

Brittany Collins, Author

As the battle against book censorship continues, these strategies and insights may offer a roadmap for advocates dedicated to preserving intellectual freedom and the joy of unrestricted reading.

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