Resources for Combating Attempts at Censorship
by Carolyn Foote
As censorship fights have become more and more common across the country, both grassroots groups and large advocacy groups are becoming more organized. Technology is enabling local organizers and advocacy groups to highlight issues, tell their library stories, and provide tools for community members who are fighting censorship locally. Infographics, websites, TikToks, Canva images, GIFs, Wakelets, and online toolkits on fighting censorship are all resources that are being used across social media to raise awareness of issues or local events.
Attention Grabbing Messaging
Large advocacy groups are working across multiple channels to highlight the anti-censorship cause and provide resources like toolkits for librarians and community members. They often use consistent color schemes and fonts so that their images are identifiable and gain attention. For example, ALA’s Unite Against Book Bans initiative (@uabookbans) uses vivid black, orange, and white graphics with a consistent logo to spotlight issues, and each image makes a call to action to join the campaign. Especially for laypeople who want to get involved, these simple, compelling images get the message across clearly. On its website (uniteagainstbookbans.org), you can find a complete toolkit with talking points, social media graphics, and helpful recommendations for grassroots organizing. Also, there are answers to difficult questions that your community members might ask (uniteagainstbookbans.org/toolkit). Follow, and urge others to follow, the initiative’s Instagram and Twitter accounts, which highlight new tools and alert you to censorship cases unfolding around the country.
PEN America, an advocacy group that has long focused on supporting authors and their readers, has a set of tip sheets that feature tips for students, authors, and librarians (pen.org/issue/book-bans). Its tip sheet on librarians facing harassment is unique to this kind of toolkit and is an important resource (pen.org/librarian-tip-sheet-harassment). In addition, its presentations and graphics documenting the state of book banning are a go-to resource for statistics and messaging for those who are communicating about the issue. PEN America has mastered the art of how to grab attention on its social media account (@penamerica). It provides its statistics about censorship and its longer reports with a consistent use of red brackets on black backgrounds and offers clear charts along with graphics using those same color schemes. It also frames headlines for articles in ways that can be easily clipped or screenshot for social media.
Shared and Shareable
The National Council Against Censorship, a coalition of more than 50 not-for-profit members that support freedom of expression, has created a unique ebook style toolkit directed toward kids and their parents, with simple explanations of what censorship is and why works get challenged and suggestions on how kids and parents can speak up. Written like an ebook, it can be downloaded for easy sharing (ncac.org/resource/book-censorship-toolkit). It also has a companion handbook for educators that includes sample book review policies (ncac.org/resource/educator-handbook).
EveryLibrary effectively uses PDFs for longer-form advocacy documents (everylibrary.org). The EveryLibrary Institute, a 501(c)(3) partner to EveryLibrary, has a plethora of downloadable reports and talking point resources on topics such as how to deal with opposition to library proposals (everylibraryinstitute.org/responding_to_opposition) and how to advocate against bills that criminalize librarianship (everylibraryinstitute.org/opposing_attempts_policy_brief_2023).
State library advocacy groups have sprung up in states such as Texas and Michigan as offspring of their state library organizations. MI Right to Read (mirighttoread.com/resources) has tips on taking action and links to other helpful toolkits, all shared through consistent graphics and fonts. Texans for the Right to Read, a coalition-building advocacy group
(@righttoreadtx), uses vivid blue and orange text and consistent design formats to raise awareness among the general public about the job librarians do and how community members can help support them.
Leveraging Social Media Outlets and Channels
Twitter has become a primary and powerful means of advocacy and storytelling and for rallying community members quickly. Libraries use Twitter to maintain a sense of trust and educate the public about what libraries and librarians actually do. Libraries of all kinds use Twitter to tell the everyday stories of their work, such as Kansas City Public Library (@KCLibrary) or K.C. Boyd
(@Boss_librarian) in Washington, D.C., public schools. The growing hashtag #SchoolLibraryStories is used by librarians to highlight the wealth of activities in school libraries—an effective counterpoint to the negative rhetoric librarians are facing.
Twitter has also become a vital lifeline for advocacy groups to communicate their message, share news stories, connect with one another, and engage with the media. A grassroots nonprofit, the Florida Freedom to Read Project (@FLFreedomRead), has effectively kept the entire country informed about the censorship proposed at Florida school board meetings and is tracking the impact of new state laws on the local level. Behind the scenes, the organization is gathering information via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, connections with local librarians and students, and contacts with the media. A Texas grassroots group, FReadom Fighters (full disclosure: I am a co-founder), similarly uses its Twitter account, but with more of a focus on elevating librarians and providing support for advocates. FReadom Fighters has consistently used Canva to create recognizable graphics to highlight #FReadom Fridays, monthly actions, quotes from authors, etc. (www.freadom.us/how-to-instructions). The organization also used Wakelet to build a more comprehensive set of resources on fighting censorship (wakelet.com/wake/ygY18xcyC2BqQwfHoJvr3). Wakelet has been helpful as a means for collecting Twitter threads for hashtags such as #FReadom, which has become a unifying hashtag for communicating about censorship.
High school students are adding their own voices and are taking advantage of social media to fight book banning as well. In Texas, Vandergrift High School (VHS) students started the VHS Banned Book Club. Their goal is to read and evaluate a series of books that had been removed from classroom libraries. The group leverages its Instagram account (@vhsbannedbookclub) to document its work. After each meeting, it offers a series of slides in which it shares a “censored” book’s cover and a powerful quote, describes why the book was removed from the district, offers a series of discussion questions, and then summarizes its meeting conversation and provides recommendations for the book. The group’s academic tone is complemented by its use of muted slide colors and a professional approach. The VHS Banned Book Club provides a much-needed addition of academic rigor to the contentious environment around book banning, modeled by high school students. In Utah, Students Against Censorship created a website (studentsagainstcen.wixsite.com/studentsagainstcenso) and Instagram (@students_against_censorship) to document instances of book banning in its district and highlight actions that students can take.
Parent groups fighting censorship have also been employing social media and leveraging consistent graphic design to draw attention to their cause. United for GCISD, a local parent group in Texas (@UnitedforGCISD), uses a consistent graphic on its Twitter account to highlight books that have been censored and to share information about voting in the Grapevine Colleyville School district, making the information accessible at a quick glance. Library Defense, a local group in Lincolnwood, Ill. (@library_defense), uses engaging graphics with details about voting to raise community awareness about an upcoming library board election and to support “freedom to read” candidates in a contentious environment. In Round Rock, Texas, Access RRISD (@accesseducationrrisd) uses effective and clear infographics on its Instagram account as a legislative lobbying tool to raise awareness of local school board races and legislative lobbying opportunities at the Texas capital.
Blogging is another effective tool in the censorship fight, and it is one that columnist Kelly Jensen at Book Riot has mastered. In a cross between a blog and an online newsletter, she documents lengthy stories of censorship, bad bills, things librarians can do to fight back, etc., with recognizable graphics and calls to action. One of her articles explains how to file a FOIA request (bookriot.com/how-to-fight-book-bans-and-challenges). Middle grade and YA author Kelly Yang (@kellyyanghk) notably uses her TikTok account to speak up passionately against book banners and for diverse books (tiktok.com/@kellyyanghk). She shares her Tik-Tok videos widely through her Twitter account as well, magnifying their impact.
There are countless examples of ways that communities and librarians themselves have been using social media to shed sunshine on what’s happening around the country. From the local level to nationwide, a web of support for libraries and librarians fighting for academic freedom has emerged, illustrating that librarians are not alone in this fight. Equally important is that libraries themselves are detailing the rich life within their walls, because those stories are proactive ways to build the narrative we want to tell, rather than having narratives thrust upon us. Social media is a low barrier for stories to emerge and for rumors to spread, so it’s especially important that advocacy groups and librarians tell their own stories well.