Library Leadership

103. Dealing with Book Banning with Tracie D. Hall

We have all heard a lot lately about the waves of book bannings happening across our country, reaching levels not seen in decades. What exactly is the American Library Association seeing out in the field? On this show Tracie D. Hall, Executive Director of the American Library Association, shares what is driving these efforts at book banning, what materials are being most challenged, why reporting censorship is vital to protecting the freedom to read, and what actions we can all take to protect the freedom to read.

Transcript

Library Leadership Podcast is brought to you by Innovative. Innovative, a part of Clarivate, is a globally recognized library industry partner with nearly five decades of experience developing library management solutions, discovery tools, marketing and communication services, and digital resource management products. Innovative believes every person in every community deserves a personalized library experience. Learn more at www.iii.com

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. You’re listening to Library Leadership Podcast where we talk about libraries, and leadership, and speak with guests who share their ideas, innovations, and strategic insights into the profession.

We have all heard a lot lately about the waves of book bannings happening across our country, reaching levels not seen in decades. What exactly is the American Library Association seeing out there in the field? On this show I talk with Tracie D. Hall, Executive Director of the American Library Association. She shares what is driving these efforts at book banning, what materials are being most challenged, why reporting censorship is vital to defending library resources, and what actions we all can take to protect the freedom to read. It’s an important conversation I hope you’ll tune in for. Enjoy the show!

Tracie, welcome to the show!

Tracie D. Hall:

Thank you for having me, Adriane.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #1:  It’s my pleasure. We have all heard a lot lately about the waves of book bannings happening across our country, reaching levels not seen in decades. What exactly is the American Library Association seeing out there in the field?  01:40  

Tracie D. Hall:

Well, for one thing, we are seeing a period in our history where the number of book bans is eclipsing even that of the McCarthy era. And, just to remind everyone, I’m speaking about a period of time where there was a concerted effort to remove books from libraries and from the public sphere that were considered to be unAmerican. 

Today we are seeing the return of that era, but we’re also seeing a period where books are being removed and banned at a pace that far eclipsed that. One of the things that underlies both, as a throughline that we can draw between both eras is that in both eras the books that were targeted for banning often were books that spoke about integration, or desegregation, or self-reliance, and autonomy. Today we are seeing that the majority of books that are being banned, also, speak about Black Lives Matter, how to be anti-racist, as well as uplift the voices of people who are LBGTQIA. I think that there is a connection to this movement to ban books in this era that harkens back to an earlier age, unfortunately.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #2:  What is driving these efforts at book banning?  03:14 

Tracie D. Hall:

Honestly, because of course, the right to read is central to freedom of speech—to our First Amendment rights. One thing that we can easily see that’s driving these book bans is the suppression of free speech. The idea that not everyone has an opportunity to talk about their lived experience, or to write history. It is really, purely, just as fundamental as that. There is a very small group of people, because we know the American Library Association has conducted polls, and those polls tell us that 71% of all Americans, regardless of their political party, believe in the right to read—believe that everyone should have the opportunity to read freely, and to choose their own reading material. What we’re seeing is really the result of a fringe element, really trying to suppress free speech.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #3:  What materials are being most challenged?  04:14 

Tracie D. Hall:

Well, it’s really interesting—right? Because as I said, the majority of books focus on the lives of black, indigenous, people of color, or LGBTQIA individuals. Some of those books include, Maia Kobabe’s autobiography, Gender Queer, or even The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. What we’re seeing is that there are books, obviously, that tend to speak to issues that are really core to the human experience—whether that is gender, or sexual orientation, or race, and belonging. 

But we’re seeing again, repeatedly, books that talk about the civil rights, or that talk about the Civil Rights era, or that talk about how to be an anti-racist, or that All Boys Aren’t Blue, by George M. Johnson—sometimes books that are at the intersection of race, and gender, and sexual orientation, those book, particularly, are being acutely targeted.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #4:  Reporting censorship is vital to developing ways to defend library resources. What can you tell us about why reporting is important, and how librarians should go about it?  05:12 

Tracie D. Hall:

In 1956 the American Library Association created its Office for Intellectual Freedom which was created to steward and support intellectual freedom at every level. And also, to provide technical assistance, legal guidance to librarians—and to anyone working in libraries who was coming up against censorship issues. Even today the American Library Association supports, through its Freedom to Read Foundation, the Leroy Merritt fund, which is a legal defense fund for librarians and library workers who lose their jobs, because many do, unfortunately, defending intellectual freedom and the right to read.

The first thing I would do is to invite anyone listening to visit the American Library Association’s new website, really supporting people, and standing up against book bans. Because, book bans and book censorship will last as long as we allow it. We’ve learned that during the McCarthy era and we see it now. 

Our silence can actually lead to even more egregious efforts to contain the right to read. So, I invite everyone to visit: Unite Against Book Bans dot org. That is a way that everyone here can stand up for the right to read, in addition to reporting censorship, which they can do by visiting www.ala.org.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #5:  What actions can we take in our libraries, and in our communities to protect the freedom to read?  06:51 

Tracie D. Hall:

Well, this is going to sound too simple—but, I really mean it—everyone could visit their libraries—their school, if you’re a student, or a public library, and check out a banned book. Honestly, I think that we really have to be very direct in letting the world know that this is not us. We know that the right to read is center, and central to democracy. It’s at the center. It’s at the core of what we believe in. It’s at the core of American values.

We don’t want anyone to think that censorship is an American goal or ideal. It’s the exact opposite. I invite everyone to visit your local library. Check out and read a banned book, whether it’s something like The Bluest Eye, or Lawn Boy, or Out of Darkness, or by Paul, by Langston Hughes, and W.E.B. DeBois. What we’re seeing is that censorship is something that can impact a range of reading. So, my request for everyone listening is to read a banned book, and to do that by visiting your library

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #6:  Absolutely, I’ve been going back and reading banned books myself  lately. So, you mentioned Banned Books Week 2022, and that’s going to be held this September 18th through 24th. Do you have any tips or suggestions for making this celebration of the Freedom To Read a success this year?  08:07 

Tracie D. Hall:

Yes, in addition to visiting your local library, and checking out banned books— form reading circles and read-ins, understand why books like Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, or the book Robin Hood were censored. Robin Hood was censored for its attack—on what was seen as being, an attack on the wealthy. 

When we begin to understand the types of books that are being censored, then we understand that this is really not reflective of who we are as a nation. So, form read-ins. Read banned books. Try to break a record. Maybe go for a record where you’re reading the most banned book consecutively. I think that there’s something in it for everyone. 

There’s an opportunity also, for multiple generations—for parents and grandparents to read together with children. We know that Maus, a wonderful graphic novel, which really looks at the horrors of the holocaust was a book that recently was banned.

Now today, we are hearing that the last generation of holocaust survivors are still here, but many of them are passing on. This is an opportunity for grandparents, even great-grandparents to share a book—the memories with the young people in their families. 

I would say whether it is a read-in, or a family exchange of books, or everyone in the family choosing a book to read from a banned book list—one of ours at the American Library Association, and jumping on Zoom and having a family read-in. I think there are opportunities—or a family book club, to do that in a way that is not just a response to book bans, but that it creates togetherness and learning for the entire family.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #7:  Is there anything else you’d like to share?   10:06 

Tracie D. Hall:

One thing that I often reflect on is that in the forties and fifties, especially when we began to think about censorship as something that was happening across the country—as we began to witness book censorship happening across the country, we understand that many of those titles were actually really pre-empting, or actually a prelude I would say, to the civil rights era.

I think that we have to understand that anytime there’s a concerted effort to censor books, it’s also about repressing speech, and autonomy, and agency for individuals. I would say let’s not take this lightly. We do need to stand up against this encumberment of freedom of speech, because what we know is that once we begin to see one area of our Bill of Rights taken away, that impacts other areas. So, for us to keep our country one that believes in that everyone has a right to read, and to self-expression—we do need to stand up against censorship. We cannot take this sitting down.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #8:  Do you have any favorite management, or leadership or resources, and why?  11:24 

Tracie D. Hall:

Oh, yes. I’m always reading. I’m always reading leadership books. I range from Adrienne Maree Brown’s Emergent Strategy, which I think is just a brilliant manifesto on the need for agile leadership, and empathic leadership—all the way to people like Peter Drucker, who was considered to be, really, one of the foremost thinkers about organizational development, and the idea of leadership, and management as two distinct arts, or disciplines.

I’m always reading management books. I think today though, what I find myself really turning to is that I find myself turning to a lot of poetry. I do that now, because there is something that artists, and poets have to say about change management, and how we drive ourselves through it, and how we look forward to the creation of other worlds—of new worlds of new possibilities that in times like this, in times of constant change and turmoil, I’m always turning to.

I find myself right now continuing, of course, to read management books as I do often. But, also I find myself turning to poetry and the arts, and maybe that’s because of my own background as an artist, and as a writer very early in my career. But, I do think that management today—change management, is an art. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I’m blending my reading a bit.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #9:  Tracie, in closing, what do libraries mean to you, personally?  13:00 

Tracie D. Hall:

Libraries mean everything to me, personally. I am someone who grew up in South Central Los Angeles at a time when that community, and others like it, were summarily written off—where the genius in those communities was seldom seen. I had a grandmother who had grown up only attending the third, sixth, and ninth grades because she was from the rural south, and one of twelve children. She had—like many, many children, we don’t talk about this often—how many, many children have to weigh and balance school, and obligations to family. When my grandmother and grandfather, along with my mother and her siblings, came to Los Angeles there was a public library within walking distance of our home. 

As I grew up, my grandmother—who by this time, after she turned sixty, seventy—didn’t go out of the house much except to do some grocery shopping, to visit the doctor, to go to church, of course. But one of the places she went, probably, as regularly as she went to church, was to the library—taking me to the library. The library was a place where I really learned all the things that I’m talking about, where I could really ideate on what a future looked like for myself. That is one of the reasons why the library is so important to me. My brother said he remembered, even more vividly, how I’d act in the library—what kinds of books I would seek. But, he tells me all the time that my grandmother taking me to the library every week—he believes that’s the reason why I became a librarian. But, I believe that the reason why I actually became a librarian is because I want that same experience that I can create possibilities for myself—I want every young person to feel that when they go to a library. 

I don’t want the book that they check out, what they want to read to be policed by anyone—except maybe their parents, who can determine with them a course of reading. I really don’t want that opportunity to be taken away by someone else. I think that it is important that every person has an opportunity to choose their future for themselves, reading and libraries are preludes to that.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #10:  Tracie D. Hall, Executive Director of the American Library Association, it has been a great honor having you today on Library Leadership Podcast talking about the freedom to read and what it means to us and future generations. Thank you for being here today.  15:40 

Tracie D. Hall:

Thank you for having me, again, Adriane.

You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. For more episodes tune into LibraryLeadershipPodcast.com, where you can now subscribe to get episodes delivered right into your email inbox. Our producer is Nathan Sinclair Vineyard. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.

We would like to thank the Park City Library for their dedicated support of this show. The opinions expressed on this show are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the views of Library Leadership Podcast, or our sponsors.

You may also like
73. Workplace Stress with Brenda Hough
57. The Mentoring Process with Ginger H. Williams