American Library Assn’s “Unite Against Book Bans”

A patron, not a customer

A friend of mine who is on the board of trustees of the Albany Public Library told me about an action taken by the board at their November 8, 2022, meeting. The trustees signed on to the “Unite Against Book Bans” campaign of the American Library Association.

The document – I will email anyone the blank PDF form – begins, “We are organizations representing 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 who are united against book bans.”

It shares a lot of cool stuff about reading as a “foundational skill.” “Books are tools for understanding complex issues” and “Individuals should be trusted to make their own decisions about what to read.”

“However, efforts to ban books, especially in schools and libraries, are occurring in unprecedented numbers across the country.” The number of books removed or restricted nearly tripled between 2019 and 2021.

“What is also shocking is the rise in state and local legislation which will make censorship easier, or even allow the criminal prosecution of librarians or teachers for simply doing their jobs– ensuring the public has access to a variety of ideas and perspectives. We fear that the centers of knowledge for families and communities are in jeopardy.”


Around the same time, Cory Doctorow wrote about “the American right-wing’s new focus on killing libraries.” It’s on Medium, and you might not be able to access it unless you’re a member. I’m going to provide some internal links, though. Let’s start with the pull quote. “Libraries are the last place in America where you are valued for your personhood rather than the contents of your wallet. At the library, you are a patron, not a customer.”

Doctorow writes: “Behind the anti-library movement is a demand for extraordinarily invasive government control over parenting.”

Here’s a “fantastic interview with incoming American Library Association president Emily Drabinski and it’s a must-listen masterclass in understanding what libraries mean and why wealthy right-wing media barons would want to destroy them.”

PEN America and, of course, the ALA also have much useful information. PEN America is the source of much of Alan Singer’s article about book bans in Missouri.

If you belong to an organization, I would like you to consider bringing the ALA campaign to the group. I will try to get my church on board since the trustee who brought the topic to my attention is also a church member.

When Kelly linked to the Doctorow article, he wrote, “You want to get me marching in the streets? Trying to kill my library might do it.” As the cliche goes, don’t mourn, organize!

American Library Association and civil rights

Charlottesvile.library.1948My friend Judy I’ve known since the autumn of 1977 before she was a librarian. She was one of the people who dragged me off to library school, kicking and screaming. She asked another person and me: “Do you know what the American Library Association (ALA) policy was on civil rights?” I didn’t, but I imagine that it was probably complicated, like these things always are.

I came across this article from the July 2004 issue of the Journal of the Medical Library Association. The introduction notes that “the racial segregation of libraries, the nonexistence or inadequacy of library collections and services for minorities, and inequities for librarians were often beneath the surface—undiscussed or unrecognized. Efforts to move librarianship toward integration and civil rights were painfully slow, sometimes reflecting changes in society as a whole and, at other times, at their own pace.”

This is not surprising. There was a woman in my church in Binghamton, NY when I was growing up named Beccye Fawcett, married to Claude. She was the first black librarian in Broome County, and though I never asked her about it directly, I heard she had a difficult time early on. I found several references to her in the Broome County Oral History Project, “oral history interviews obtained between November 1977 and September 1978 and conducted by five interviewers under the supervision of the Action for Older Persons Program.” I’ve not heard the tapes, but “discrimination” is one of the topic headings.

The JMLA article reads:

The ALA conference in Richmond, Virginia, brought visibility to the subject in 1936. ALA was “anxious to have Negro librarians attend in large numbers. Because of the traditional position of the South in respect to mixed meetings,” ALA felt it advisable to send a “semi-official” letter from a local librarian to African American members informing them of the conditions they should expect. Although ALA had arranged with the host hotels that all delegates could use the same entrance, hotel rooms and meals were forbidden to black delegates by Virginia laws. Meetings that were part of meals were not open to black delegates, although they could attend sessions followed by meals, if they did not participate in the meals.

As you can see, the association was blasted in a library journal.

In response to the situation, ALA created a Committee on Racial Discrimination, approving its report in December 1936. It resolved that the association would stipulate in advance the provisions under which it would accept hospitality “with proper regard for its own self respect and that of its members.” Although it was opposed to eliminating any geographical part of the country from consideration for the annual conference, selection of future meeting places would be conditional upon the admission of all members to rooms and halls on terms of full equality.

In the follow-up JMLA article from July 2005:

Librarians looked to ALA for leadership on the issue. In 1954, ALA had banned states from having more than one chapter to eliminate separate white and African American chapters, causing two states to lose ALA affiliation. In 1961, it adopted an addition to the Library Bill of Rights: “The rights of an individual to the use of a library should not be denied or abridged because of his race, religion, national origins or political views.” However, it refused to go further in regulating the affairs of chapters or the operation of libraries.

I’m sure there’s a lot more on this topic that I hope my friend Judy will discover in her research, and I trust will share with me.
The graphic is from a 1948 Virginia newspaper, noting that the separate but hardly equal black branch of the library was closing, and being integrated into the main branch.

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