Media Guide: Reporting on Book Bannings and School Censorship

By GLAAD |
February 1, 2023

The rise in efforts to ban specific topics from school libraries—largely books about LGBTQ people and race and racism—is inextricable from long-standing efforts by extremist groups to increasingly use schools as a political battleground.

The removal of books from school libraries based on personal opposition to their content is illegal. In 1982, after the Moral Majority-inspired wave of book bans, the Supreme Court ruled that a Long Island school district violated students’ constitutional rights under the First Amendment when it banned a selection of books. Notably, that case was brought by students; students are also resisting censorship in their schools today. What sets this year apart from past incidents of book banning is the sheer number of attempts to specifically target books about LGBTQ people and people of color.

This guide is designed to provide context and sourcing recommendations for journalists covering book bans and school censorship. In this guide, you will find advocates and professional associations speaking out against book bans, parent and student groups resisting censorship, background on anti-LGBTQ groups connected to the current censorship efforts, and more.

BEST PRACTICES FOR MEDIA COVERING BOOK BANS

  • Center and elevate LGBTQ and other marginalized community voices in your coverage. Include the voices of LGBTQ students, authors, parents, teachers, and advocates in any coverage of LGBTQ issues.
  • Center and elevate student voices. Students are the ones whose right to read about certain topics is being challenged. Coverage of a proposed or enacted book ban in a school district should include the voices of students in that district.
  • Avoid the false framing of book bans as a “parents’ rights” issue or a “culture war” between left and right. Many parents want a more fair and inclusive education for their children, and value free expression and access to books. Parents are also Black, LGBTQ, and parents of LGBTQ children, for example, and these parents have the same rights as any other group.
  • Include context about the activists and elected officials proposing bans, including history of anti-LGBTQ activism and connections to national groups. Such groups include Moms for Liberty, The Heritage Foundation, Massresistance, No Left Turn in Education, Families for Educational Freedon
  • Include professional and expert voices—librarians, educators, publishers and booksellers, racial and social justice advocates—to explain procedures for challenged books and legal precedent to protect student access to books.
  • Use critical thinking and context when encountering claims of obscenity against a specific book, and ask whether those same claims are applied to books that refer to heterosexual relationships or sexuality.

RESOURCES

  • The American Library Association (ALA) published a a Fight Censorship guide, a “clearinghouse of resources to assist library workers and library advocates” to help respond to censorship incidents and challenges, and launched the Unite Against Book Bans campaign.
  • The National Coalition Against Censorship’s Youth Censorship Database of K–12 student censorship incidents includes book challenges in schools and libraries, as well as censorship of student art, journalism, and other types of student expression in schools.
  • Efforts to censor can be reported at The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC)’s Book Challenge Crisis Hotline.
  • The Book Ban Busters map shows dozens of bans and other challenges to books around the country, gathered by a group of parents associated with the Red, Wine, and Blue campaign.
  • GLAAD joined the National Coalition Against Censorship and over 600 other national organizations, authors, booksellers, publishers and others in a coalition statement opposing book bans. GLAAD also launched the #BooksNotBans social media campaign.

GRASSROOTS PARENT'S ORGANIZATION OPPOSED TO CENSORSHIP

  • The Texas-based Round Rock Black Parents Association spoke out against school book bans after successfully petitioning the school district not to remove children’s books about anti-racism.
  • A group of suburban moms linked to the organization Red Wine and Blue launched Book Ban Busters in opposition to school censorship.
  • Parents, teachers, and other community members in Maryland rallied to oppose book bans and school censorship after conservative group filed a police report against the school board.
  • Parents and teachers in Kansas City, Missouri resisted school censorship efforts and launched a fundraiser to place banned books in Little Free Library boxes.

For more about the book censorship including a timeline and 2022 legislation, go to the 2022 edition of the Media Guide

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