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Notes from Executive Director Scott Garrison – February 2022

Libraries nationwide have seen an increase in “First Amendment audits” and book challenges over the past year-plus, and many anticipate more of this activity in 2022 and beyond. This month, I’ll highlight some resources from library and other organizations, including in Indiana and Michigan, that can help libraries prepare for and deal with what many find to be divisive and disruptive events.

What is a “First Amendment audit” and how can libraries prepare? According to Clare Membiela, Library Law Consultant at the Library of Michigan (LM; as part of her June 2021 Library Law Spotlight video, which includes Q&A):

  • they manifest as a person or group visiting a library and announcing that they are conducting a “First Amendment audit,” to assert their right to access public buildings and record video;
  • in many cases, the “auditors” may be familiar with their own rights as citizens, though they may not be as familiar with a library’s status as a “limited public forum” (see second paragraph at link), i.e., that a library can control the time, place, and manner of how someone expresses their First Amendment rights in the library;
  • “auditors” often try to intimidate, and hope for conflict and “good content,” as many post their “audits” on YouTube (search “first amendment audit library” for many examples) and other video sharing sites;
  • limiting where “auditors” can record can help libraries protect their staff from intimidation and disruptive behavior, and protect patrons’ privacy rights;
  • to prepare for an “audit,” “library boards and directors should carefully consider the options for discouraging and/or managing ‘audits,’ and choose the least restrictive option that will achieve [the] intended outcome,” in collaboration with local experts and resources including attorneys and law enforcement;
  • and, as some communities may be at greater risk for a confrontational “auditor” than others, some options for preparation include policies (such as for photography and filming), training (e.g., around conflict), and communicating policies to the community.

Sylvia Watson, General Counsel at the Indiana State Library (ISL), published a five page Informational Legal Memo on July 22, 2021, featuring common questions and detailed answers around what “First Amendment audits” are, how libraries can respond, patron First Amendment protections, as well as helpful links to other resources from ISL and the American Library Association (ALA).

In addition to preparing in terms of your community, as some on the michlib-l email distribution list suggested in January, staying calm can also be key in “audit” situations – if an “auditor” can’t push library staff into a conflict, they may just leave the library and move on.

Libraries have faced book challenges for centuries, and many are seeing an uptick, including from within their own boards (American Libraries, 11/1/2021). There are many resources at the national and state levels to help libraries prepare to respond to challenges in their communities – here is just a partial list.


  1. The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), an alliance of national nonprofit groups dedicated to protecting freedom of expression, documents many challenges across the country, ranging from classic to current books that some find objectionable. NCAC also offers a rich School Book Challenge Resource Center, including their definition of censorship, guides, advice for how to advocate for books, sample letters students and parents can use to stand up for challenged books, and other resources.
  2. The ALA’s Challenge Support page defines terms such as “challenge,” “censorship,” and “intellectual freedom,” details how ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) can help libraries, and includes many strategies and tips for how to be prepared for and respond to challenges, from policies, suggestions around reconsideration processes, and OIF consulting, training, publications, and other services. Many encourage all library staff to report challenges to OIF.
  3. A November 2021 blog post from the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) points to other OIF resources, as well as social media and other blog posts from school librarians who have dealt with challenges successfully, including Martha Hickson in New Jersey.
  4. School Library Journal has collected an array of stories over the past several months about book challenges and bans.
  5. To gain insight into some parents’ rationale behind book challenges, consider learning about Purple for Parents, which started in 2018 as a conservative counter-movement against the progressive Red for Ed.

In Indiana:

  1. Some library staff members I’ve met have become quite familiar with Indiana’s Purple for Parents chapter, and schools such as Carmel Clay Schools have standard processes for parents to follow regarding challenges.
  2. In her blog post from December 16, 2021, Jen Clifton, Library Development Office Director at ISL, reminds libraries that the Indiana Code and Indiana Administrative Code require public and school libraries to have collection development/materials selection policies, and that such policies “should guide the process for challenges, reconsideration, or withdrawal.”
  3. The Indiana Library Federation’s (ILF) Intellectual Freedom – Facing a Challenge page includes pointers to OIF resources, and a summary of how to prepare to face a challenge, how to respond to intellectual freedom challenges, and advice for library board members.
  4. ILF’s Intellectual Freedom and ILF page links to ILF’s Intellectual Freedom Committee, reminds libraries to report formal and informal challenges via OIF, and points to an ILF micro-training on intellectual freedom from 2020.
  5. ILF recently posted its statement entitled Freedom to Read in Defense of Democracy, citing the First Amendment, and Article One of the Indiana Constitution, and asserting that books that are challenged, “often represent the experiences of our most vulnerable community members;” that library professionals should ensure that library resources, “reflect the diverse and broad interests of their communities;” that, “each person can freely access the resources they want, including materials that others may find offensive or run counter to their personal values;” and that, “parents and guardians have the right to guide their children to materials that are appropriate for their family, but no one has the right to restrict access for others.”

In Michigan:

  1. Clare Membiela at LM published a five page information sheet on December 6, 2021 entitled Book Challenges, Censorship, and Michigan Public Libraries, organized as a set of questions and answers and a list of other resources.
  2. Membiela also published Handling Materials Reconsideration, Challenges, and Censorship, A Checklist on December 6, 2021, which emphasizes various policies libraries should have and update regularly (including in bylaws) that should be clear, legal, and publicly available, training library staff and board members should have, and steps to take in challenge situations.
  3. The Michigan Library Association (MLA) published its Statement of Principle – Intellectual Freedom in September 2021, which distills language from a variety of ALA sources and from Article 19 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. MLA’s statement also includes a section on an individual’s right to privacy, and the statement page points to a video of the September 27 Byron Township Board Meeting at which board members expressed concern about some materials at Kent District Library (KDL), and where KDL Director Lance Werner and several community members with varying perspectives responded.
  4. A local TV station in Grand Rapids published KDL’s Procedures for Requests for Reconsideration of Library Materials, as part of a news story on those board members’ concerns.
  5. The Lakeland Library Cooperative has assembled an excellent Intellectual Freedom and Censorship page, including collection development policies from twelve libraries across the state of Michigan, information on combating misinformation, and institutional support from ALA, LM, MLA, and NCAC.

In the American Libraries story I reference above, Megan Murray Cusick, Assistant Director of State Advocacy for ALA’s Public Policy and Advocacy Office, made the key point that libraries need to maintain a strong relationship with their community on an ongoing basis to help garner support regarding challenges. Beth Nawalinski, Executive Director of United for Libraries, also recommends that library directors whose board members are appointed rather than elected stay in touch with the elected officials who make board appointments. Both Cusick and Nawalinski also suggest that libraries build community support through stories and narratives around the library’s core values.

Have you used some of these resources in your own community? Please share your story with me at Have useful resources I missed? Please share them, also! Thanks as always for reading, and see you next month.