Preparing NOW for expected challenges

White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaking to reporters at the White House
White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks to reporters.


An email I wrote to our state library association about the concerning things happening in Texas.

Hello all — I am writing this kind of in my role as VT Chapter Councilor and somewhat as someone in the Intellectual Freedom Committee. I wanted to make you aware of an issue concerning book challenges.

As you are probably aware, Texas is one of the states where there are coordinated groups of “concerned parents” and others who have been challenging books with GLBTQ content as well as books about what they call “critical race theory” but which are really just books about… American history usually, with a focus on the Black (and sometimes Native American) experience and the effects of racism. Here’s an article from CNN. I draw your attention to the quote from ALA.

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, head of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom, told CNN that this year, and the last couple of months in particular, have seen a real increase across the country in challenges to books written by minority and LGBTQ authors.

“In September of 2021, we saw a 60% increase in challenges year to year from the previous year,”

Vermont doesn’t get as many of these challenges but they do get some. I would like to make some suggestions for how to be ready in the event that this becomes an issue that touches Vermont more specifically–i.e. coordinated groups of people at a national level objecting to content in a library in some blanket way because of their personal political beliefs, not “organic” challenges that come from people within a community. There is a Twitter thread that I found useful for this which is here.

It recommends

  • making sure you are familiar with your collection and what books in your collection may be challenged
  • making sure you and all your staff are well-versed in your collection development policies
  • considering having a policy that requires challenges be in writing
  • preparing in advance if you get complaints at this level (i.e. multiple complaints coming in at about the same time about entire classes of books) about how to respond
  • becoming versed in the discourse surrounding “critical race theory” if you aren’t already, here’s a small Libguide from Cornell Libraries if you need a short primer.

I would also like to remind you that VLA has an Intellectual Freedom Committee headed by Mary Danko and ALA has an Office of Intellectual Freedom headed by Deborah Caldwell-Stone. You can report challenges to ALA here.

Here’s hoping we don’t have to manage a similar legislative attack on people’s rights to read whatever they please, but it’s worth understanding how some of this stuff is shaking out in other parts of the country. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions.

Jessamyn West
VT Chapter Councilor