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Notes from Executive Director Scott Garrison – Feb 2023

Following Kristin Fontichiaro’s recent presentation on mis- and disinformation, as Dr. Emily Knox’s lecture at WMU (and livestream) and workshop on intellectual freedom and book challenges approach on Feb. 7-8, and as I talk with libraries, I continue thinking a lot about diversity, equity, inclusion, social justice, and accessibility (DEIJA)—especially the pushback against these principles and how libraries work to practice and live them that I’ll call “anti-DEIJA” activity. Anti-DEIJA comes in many forms (including intellectual freedom challenges), sometimes despite best efforts to both serve everyone in communities and balance multiple needs. How can libraries respond? How can library consortia support libraries in doing so? 

The Michigan Library Association’s 2021-2022 Think Space program focused on DEIJA. 2022-2023’s Think Space focuses on anti-DEIJA activity, featuring speakers including Rob Boston from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Jonathan Friedman from PEN America, Alison Macrina from Library Freedom Project, and Nathan Triplett from the ACLU of Michigan. Here are some takeaways from the first part of Think Space in December:

  1. Rob Boston described how centuries-old politicized fundamentalism and current fear of “losing the culture war” has driven increasingly extreme anti-DEIJA efforts in recent years against a tide of growing rights movements for minoritized persons since what some consider the “golden era” of the 1950s. He asserted that the efforts are led by educated, well-funded individuals who foster the idea that teachers and librarians who allow access to content some find “obscene” or disagreeable are “groomers” and pedophiles. To Boston, these individuals have the right to hold the views they do, but not the right to impose their views on others. He emphasized the need to have policies in place when challenges occur, and his remarks sparked spirited discussion about how to push back against anti-DEIJA forces.
  2. Jonathan Friedman talked about the “ed scare” impacting higher education, schools, and libraries as an organized movement to both foment concern and undermine organizations using strategies and tactics including threats, gag orders, bans, and defunding. Friedman suggested that the ed scare is about suppressing the “other,” and relies on authoritarian methods such as censorship, undermining professions, sowing division, and limiting rights to access historical content about the history and impact of slavery, racism, gender, and sexuality. He posited that if every school and library held firm to solid processes, not nearly as many book challenges would be happening. 70% of the organizations issuing challenges formed since 2021, and legislative activity to limit the freedom to read is happening in Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Utah, and Virginia. Friedman emphasized that “parents rights” efforts often privilege some parents over others, and offered resources on free expression.
  3. Alison Macrina introduced the Library Freedom Project (LFP) as a network of professionals with academic and public library experience dedicated to both upholding library values in practical ways and building a community of practice. LFP runs free training for how to connect library values with civil liberties and public goods. Macrina spoke about understanding neutrality through the lenses of both First Amendment jurisprudence and social justice, and considering whether libraries really want to show all viewpoints—including on controversial topics such as Holocaust denial and gay conversion therapy. She cited Karl Popper’s paradox of intolerance, i.e., the idea that if we are so tolerant that we tolerate intolerance, we will end up excluding those who are targets of intolerance. Macrina also raised the question of who is co-opting freedom and censorship (i.e., from politicians to organizations), and how that is manifesting in board takeovers, online harassment, direct confrontation, and more, in states including Florida, Idaho, and Nevada. She noted the Virginia Library Association Intellectual Freedom Committee’s work including on “book resumes,” lauded the Michigan Library Association-led MI Right to Read coalition, and urged libraries to review and understand the tactics of those who challenge them to be in a better position to respond affirmatively based on library values and civil liberties, with support from legal counsel and allied organizations. Further discussion centered on keeping library boards aware and knowledgeable about intellectual freedom.
  4. Nathan Triplett closed Think Space’s first session raising questions of who each of us are in a civil rights struggle such as what libraries face, how we show up to confront that struggle, and how it impacts our work. He also asked how the decisions each of us make impacts democracy at a time when libraries need to square their communities’ majority opinions with the fact that minoritized persons exist and need equity. Triplett noted that challengers often think about democracy in terms of upholding their own specific values and demands, rather than fostering basic rights for everyone, asking which democracy citizens want – one group’s or everyone’s.
  5. In between speakers, Think Space planning committee members ran role playing exercises to simulate book challenge conversations and held small group discussions. These discussions included ideas for overcoming current challenges; engaging challengers, publishers, authors, and libraries in greater dialogue; choosing more nuanced language that doesn’t trigger negative response (e.g., “serving everyone” rather than “serving diverse populations”); new strategies for public relations and marketing; leaning into uncomfortable conversations to strive for understanding and respect; and how libraries can support each other when needed.

Think Space and other recent conversations prompt me to wonder whether/how much longer library staff should continue allowing others to label them as them “groomers” and pedophiles, and how they might respond if they feel defamed for supporting the right to read. I also wonder how far consortia such as MCLS should go in supporting libraries facing intellectual freedom challenges, beyond co-sponsoring and participating in events (contact me at if you’d like to discuss that).

As I wrap up, I’ll turn back to DEIJA and highlight a few recent news items: 

In the United States, February is recognized widely as Black History Month. Personally, I agree with those who assert that Black history is so woven throughout and integral to American history that we should consider it anytime we think about American history, rather than focusing on it during just one month of the year. Alison Macrina expresses a similar idea when she suggests that “every week is banned books week.” Likewise, one might argue that considering and recognizing LGBTQIA+ culture and history should not be relegated to one Pride Month each year. These are things I believe.   

I offer my own perspectives on these issues, as a person who has dealt directly with race dynamics and the question of exactly who is centered in library service, and as someone who supports beloved LGBTQIA+ family, friends, and colleagues. I recognize that some who read this—and others in the communities they serve—may not agree with me. I respect their right to disagree, provided they don’t do so disagreeably, and use tactics of division and intolerance to force their perspectives on others and label me inappropriately. I will always strive to accept those with lived experience and identities that differ from my own rather than “groom” fear and bigotry, and hope those who disagree will do so respectfully, as participants in a civil society that so often doesn’t feel civil.  

In considering the word “inclusion,” I’ve come to understand that inclusion should work in multiple directions (recognizing the limits around mis- and disinformation I noted above), and that we should not let the things we disagree about get in the way of the positive and productive relationships that are so vital for our lives. Though I’ll be the first to say from experience that it isn’t always easy, I hope we can all continue to “call people in rather than calling them out,” find places where we agree with others, and build from there.

Thank you for reading. As always, I invite your comments, ideas, and thoughts at