The American Library Association and other organizations just observed Banned Books Week, which takes place annually in September. This year, librarians and educators in Maine felt the urgency of spotlighting our First Amendment rights more than ever before. As president of the Maine Association of School Libraries, I have heard from my members that the situation in schools right now is, quite simply, dire.

School librarians are being targeted in extraordinarily and inappropriately personal terms on social media platforms by groups working to discredit educators and foment conflict in public schools. Previously, book challenges in school libraries had largely originated from concerned parents representing a wide range of viewpoints asking about the validity of a particular book in a collection, but now we are dealing with something completely different. Individuals leveling these attacks are frequently working from scripts provided by organized groups, including lists of book titles, to challenge the presence of books in school libraries around the state.

These are not just attacks on innocent individuals, however; they are also assaults on public education, which we at the Maine Association of School Libraries believe is one of the cornerstones of our democracy.

Every school has a policy and a process for addressing such attempts to remove a book, yet on occasions when schools have followed their board policies, formed a committee, evaluated the materials and rejected the challenges, these groups have continued to demand that school administrators and elected officials ignore the outcomes of those processes. Rather than accepting the outcome of what are earnest and thorough committee reviews of materials, individuals are overwhelming school board meeting discussions and doubling down on social media campaigns.

Without exception, the books these groups seek to censor feature diverse identities and experiences, specifically characters of color and of different sexual identities or genders. These works of literature, acclaimed by experts and reviewers for their quality and content, have been deemed “obscene” and librarians have been labeled “pornographers” who are “sexualizing children” by having them on their shelves.

School librarians have a duty to provide high-quality information that reflects a diversity of experiences and viewpoints. At the Maine Association of School Libraries, we have embraced the overwhelming majority of opinion from childhood education experts that all students benefit from seeing diverse experiences and identities depicted in the books they find in their school libraries. This representation is crucial if we are to prepare our children for the future; if we are to help them understand where they themselves fit into our world, and if we are to help them comprehend the larger communities of which they are, and will be, a part.

The professional school library community will continue to uphold the principle of intellectual freedom. We will continue to go to work and perform our duties to ensure that the collections in our care represent all students. But dedicated professional librarians – as well as our principals, superintendents and school boards – need your support. We need to hear your voices speaking up just as loudly as those other voices.

We encourage you to speak up at school board meetings, write your school board members and share what it has meant to you or your child to see their identity reflected on library shelves or how your child has learned to appreciate the perspective of others from a library book.

As librarians, it is our honor to serve school communities across our beloved state and to provide rich, diverse library collections that will help Maine’s children learn and grow by providing them with high quality library collections. We thank you for your recognition of our efforts and hope that you will remember how much your voice matters in protecting students’ right to read.

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