One of the reasons we’ve seen a rise in book challenges, among many, is the death of local journalism. Where there once were reporters at every board meeting in a community covering their beat, more and more newspapers are no longer in local communities. They may simply not exist — one in four local newspapers in the U.S. have disappeared since 2004. A number of those papers have consolidated to become larger regional papers without the human capacity to show up to every meeting, and still more newspapers have been purchased by large companies and are no longer independent.
Zooming out this wide is crucial, as freedom of the press is intricately tied to intellectual freedom. Without eyes on local government, it’s easy for stories to fall between the cracks; more and more people begin to rely on Facebook for their news, whether or not that information is accurate or comes from within their own community. Social media has been the perfect breeding ground for groups like those behind these book challenges.
PBS recently released the award-winning documentary Storm Lake to stream;d the film follows one of the last remaining independent local newspapers, The Storm Lake Times in Storm Lake, Iowa. This film is a must-view for anyone passionate about First Amendment freedoms, as it brings to focus precisely how important local news is to ensuring a community is kept safe, kept informed, and isn’t pushed to conspiracy theories or rumors or Facebook “news” because there’s not a trusted authority to turn to. It’s hard not to view it through the lens of the current censorship landscape, especially as major media outlets report on stories as if they’re new or surprising (they’re not — they’ve simply finally had enough power to make it to the mainstream). Storm Lake provides a lot more of the context for how it is we’ve come to the point where we are now.
Though we’re still amid a fervor of book challenges, there’s been more good news this week about the status of library books than in recent memory. It’s likely that as the year comes to an end, fewer challenges will emerge, but they won’t be going away. In 2022, they’ll continue, and while many of the same books will be under the spotlight, there’s also going to be a rise in complaints about social emotional learning (SEL). The groups behind the anti-“critical race theory” complaints will be behind anti-SEL complaints as well, as these groups are working to coordinate their shared language and talking points about why SEL is discriminatory against straight white people. This would be a great time to read up on SEL, and if you’re in schools or libraries, bulk up your mental health and wellness book collections, fiction and nonfiction. If you’re not, recommend a few titles to your local library. Though it feels like a small thing, it sends a message that these books have value to a community.
Prepare to be an advocate for intellectual freedom. There’s no doing it wrong or imperfectly. There’s only not doing anything at all. If you’re unsure where to begin, here’s an actionable toolkit for how to fight book bans and challenges. Choose a thing or two you can do and you’ll make a real difference.
Let’s break this up a little bit this week, starting with good news, then the rest.
Good News in Book Challenges and Censorship
Other Book Challenge News
Fascinating how the party of small government, liberty, and “freedom” wants to get their hands literally on books in school libraries…