January 30, 2023

Save the Net Books

Blogazine on Books, Arts, and Music

How your book club can fight against book bans and censorship

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Censorship has been all over the news lately. From Florida’s Don’t Say Gay law to a Texas bill that would require state-mandated ratings for school library books and give the government control over what books are allowed in school libraries. I have previously written about how to start a banned book club. Now that you’ve formed your club and formed relationships within the group, it’s time to do more than just read banned books. It’s time to be reader activists.

A single person can make a world of difference if they are hardworking and organized. in Alabama, a local women’s library had challenged Mr. Watson’s chickens by Jarrett Dapier. This book features a same-sex couple who have too many chickens, but when they try to give them a new home, they escape and need to be collected. She contacted the author to let him know what was happening in her community and feared his book would be withdrawn. She collected a little under 20 letters of support from people in the community and made a packet out of them for each board member. Then, at the school board meeting, she spoke passionately about the importance of keeping this book on the shelves. The board voted unanimously to keep the book, shocking the community and the author.

If one person can make such a change, imagine the power of a group. Even a small book club with five members or fewer can make a big difference when they decide to do something together. Here are some ways your book club can fight against censorship in your community.

It’s time to do more than read banned books. It’s time to be reader activists.

stay informed

The first thing your group must do to combat censorship is to keep up to date with what’s going on in your community. The members of the book club probably live close together. Even if they are from multiple counties or a city and surrounding counties, there is a localized area to focus on. It is important to catch up on what is happening in the local libraries and schools at each meeting. Local news can be harder to find as it often doesn’t come to our phones with a push notification like other major news outlets. Set Google Alerts with keywords for your region. Pay attention to what is happening around you. With cell phones and the shift in our culture, with more and more people keeping to themselves, it’s easy to miss local events like book contests.

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Build relationships with local librarians. Tell them you have a book club and want to support them in any way you can. Many libraries have a book club in a bag where they loan a person a set of books so that every member of the book club has access to a copy. This not only helps their circulation numbers, but also gives book club members the opportunity to connect with librarians when they pick up their book club bags. This allows you to get information and updates directly from the source, and often gives you inside information that hasn’t hit news sources yet.

For general updates on book bans and censorship, subscribe to Book Riot’s weekly Literary Activism newsletter.

Educate your community

Word of mouth has long proven to be the most effective marketing strategy. People are 90% more likely to trust and buy from a place recommended to them by a friend. The same principles apply to local activism. Talk to your family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors about book challenges and bans in the community. It’s important to educate people about issues they may have overlooked that directly affect them. Not everyone is enthusiastic about every topic. Since this is your problem, share what you have learned and how you plan to vote with your people. Then they will be able to make an informed decision based on a trusted source: you.

Participate in local meetings

City Hall, School Board, and Library Committee meetings are all open to the public and are generally poorly attended. Schedule your monthly book club meeting the same night as the school board meeting and show up together. Much like word of mouth, showing up has a bigger impact than almost anything else. When you attend a meeting, not only can you speak out against censorship, you’ll be the first to know what’s on the ballot and what’s coming up.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Poll!

I know, I know, you hear that every time. You hear it every time because it works. Voting in your local elections for representatives opposed to censorship in schools and libraries directly impacts your community. I’ll say it again: vote in local elections. That means voting on who is on your school board, library board, county, city, and state government officials. Don’t like any of the names on the ballot? Apply for the position yourself! If you hold a board position, you absolutely know what’s going on in the community and can inform your book club, who can then tell their friends and family until the entire community is better informed. We have guides on how to run for your school board and library board.

Write to authors of banned books, such as Woman in Alabama did it with Jarrett Dapier. Write to show them your support. There are so many challenged writers, especially in school libraries. Some included Angie Thomas, Jason Reynolds, George M Johnson, Ashley Hope Perez, Jonathan Evisonand Alex Gino, just to name a few. Or reach out to the author of the contested book in your community and let them know that you support their work and are fighting to keep it on shelves. Because of the wonder of the internet, you will often get an answer from them. Invite them to join your book club one night and they can even join via video. It’s a pleasure for both the book club and the author.

Similarly, write an email to a public or school librarian thanking you for a job well done. Like many public sector jobs, being a librarian can be thankless. It’s hard to know what impact you’re having or if your work matters because progress can be slow. A quick email from your cell phone on a night out during book club will brighten a librarian’s day, maybe even their week.

Donate

Take a month and donate the money you would spend to purchase the book to the book club. Donors Choose is a website that works with educators to fund projects for their classrooms or libraries. You can search for a specific school or type of project that you would like to fund. When I searched “books” on the site, dozens of projects by teachers and librarians trying to make books available to their students came up. By default, projects from my state are listed first so I can find a local school to support if I want.

Donate to your local library. Find your friend or foundation group and donate. Many of them have a button right there on their website. If not, then this is another opportunity for you to develop a relationship with your librarians. Contact them and ask how you can donate. Sometimes when it’s not money, there is a project or program they are running that could use books or materials.

Find a nonprofit organization that fights censorship. EveryLibrary is one such nonprofit organization. They help “public, school and university libraries win a referendum on ties, taxes and advice, thereby ensuring stable funding and access to libraries for generations to come”. At the very top of the site is a big blue “donate” button that makes it easy to find ways to donate money.

It can feel hopeless in today’s world. There is so much injustice, so many reasons to fight for, that it can feel like there is nothing you can do to help. But in this issue, there are real, actionable steps you can take to make a difference in your community. Don’t let book banners convince you that you are powerless. There are more of us than of them. Often they are just louder. Gather your people, make a plan, and prepare to transform your community.

If you want to read more about how to fight censorship, you can find an anti-censorship toolkit here and learn how to contact your lawmaker about book bans here. Learn more about what rights students have to access books. And follow Book Riot’s censorship news roundup for the latest information on book bans in the United States.