Librarians train to defend intellectual freedom and fight book bans at Chicago conference

Jun 23, 2023, 9:11 PM | Updated: Jun 24, 2023, 2:56 pm

Heather Hutto, executive director of Bristow Public Library, center, along with former President of...

Heather Hutto, executive director of Bristow Public Library, center, along with former President of United for Libraries Skip Dye, left, and Executive Director of the Digital Public Library of America John Bracken, right, speaks during a panel discussion about understanding and combating book bans at the American Library Association's annual conference and exhibition on Friday, June 23, 2023, at McCormick Place in Chicago. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)

(AP Photo/Erin Hooley)

CHICAGO (AP) — School librarian Jamie Gregory has been called a “pedophile” and “groomer,” bombarded with private messages threatening harm, accused of distributing pornography in schools, and had her personal address posted on social media.

She takes it on the chin.

“I’m just not going to quit. I’m not going to let them call me that, especially when I’ve worked my whole entire life to get to where I am,” said Gregory, who was named the 2022 South Carolina school librarian of the year.

The “shocking” allegations made her think: “My whole entire adult life, and all of my education and all my work — what if this is over? I’m not going to let that happen,” Gregory said Saturday to a room packed full of about 100 fellow librarians at a training session on fighting book bans at the American Library Association’s annual meeting in Chicago.

The attendees broke into applause at Gregory’s declaration.

Book bans and how to fight them is a major focus of the this year’s ALA’s conference. “The world’s largest library event” provides training and education for library professionals, according to the conference website. Librarians may attend sessions, like the one Gregory spoke at, aimed at helping them confidently counter book challenges, fight legislative censorship and ensure the freedom to read.

The ALA conference hosts thousands of librarians, library staff, authors, publishers and educators as several states record 1,269 demands to censor library books in the U.S. in 2022, a 20-year high.

“Addressing book censorship and protecting library users’ intellectual freedom, protecting librarians’ ability to provide for information in their communities, is at the forefront of this year’s meeting,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom and executive director of the Freedom to Read Foundation.

All day Saturday, attendees are invited to climb atop a giant chair to read their favorite banned book.

Gregory selected “ Gender Queer,” Maia Kobabe’s autobiographical comic on what it means to be to be nonbinary and asexual — the source of the firestorm against the school librarian and the most challenged book of 2022, according to the ALA. She also chose “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Perez, a historical fiction novel about an interracial teen romance.

“This one always makes them crazy,” said Gregory, patting the copy of “Gender Queer” and ascending the stepladder to the massive velvet reading chair, books in hand.

Librarians “make information available to people freely and equitably,” and Gregory said she plans to keep doing that.

“I don’t impose my own personal moral system on students or patrons. They have to have their own, that’s not my job,” she said.

In Gregory’s conservative community in Greenville, South Carolina, the public library board is pushing branches to remove Pride displays. In March, she testified against a bill that would allow parents to challenge any educational materials they say violate banned teachings around white privilege and implicit bias.

Still, Gregory said she feels the majority of her community supports her, despite the vocal minority.

“I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me who I don’t even know, saying, ‘We think you do a great job’ — even parents at the school,” she said.

Parents always have the right to choose what their children read, but they don’t have the right to restrict access for the whole community, said Christine Emeran, director of the Youth Free Expression Program of the National Coalition Against Censorship, a First Amendment advocacy organization.

“You can’t just concede to demands of a particular group of parents and to censor libraries,” she said.

Emeran, who is scheduled to be featured in a panel discussion called “Help! They’re coming for our books!” at the conference Sunday, began to notice an increase in book bans starting in 2021, at the beginning of President Joe Biden’s term. She attributed the shift to “a cultural backlash” against changing views on LGBTQ+ issues, women’s rights and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Local libraries are calling in the National Coalition Against Censorship for help now more than ever. In the past, the organization assisted on a few book ban cases per year. “Now we’re getting two or three a week,” Emeran said.

“Librarians are under pressure and they’re feeling frustrated, discouraged,” said Emeran, who encouraged readers to support local libraries, attend school board meetings and get involved in their communities to protect the right to read.

Groups such as Moms for Liberty, No Left Turn in Education and Citizens Defending Freedom have had an outsized effect on what is allowed to be read, she said.

“The majority may oppose censorship as a whole. But the problem is that the majority are silent,” Emeran said.

Gregory and fellow panelists Lindsey Kimeri, coordinator of library services for Metro Nashville Public Schools, and Chris Chanyasulkit, an elected library trustee in Brookline, Massachusetts, advised attendees on how best to navigate book challenges in their communities.

Attentive faces bent over notebooks followed every word.

“No more humble brag, no being quiet, no more ‘be quiet at the libraries,’” Chanyasulkit said. “Not quiet anymore. Now we’re going to talk about how it’s an incredible, game-changing place for communities, because you need to be loud. The others are, and we’re not doing enough.”


Savage is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.


Hudson, 7, left, Callahan, 13, middle, and Keegan Pruente, 10, right, stand outside their school on...

Associated Press

More schools are adopting 4-day weeks. For parents, the challenge is day 5

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) — It’s a Monday in September, but with schools closed, the three children in the Pruente household have nowhere to be. Callahan, 13, contorts herself into a backbend as 7-year-old Hudson fiddles with a balloon and 10-year-old Keegan plays the piano. Like a growing number of students around the U.S, the Pruente […]

2 days ago

A sign marks a roadside rest stop that has been made to look like the historic security gate that a...

Associated Press

Birthplace of the atomic bomb braces for its biggest mission since the top-secret Manhattan Project

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (AP) — Los Alamos was the perfect spot for the U.S. government’s top-secret Manhattan Project. Almost overnight, the ranching enclave on a remote plateau in northern New Mexico was transformed into a makeshift home for scientists, engineers and young soldiers racing to develop the world’s first atomic bomb. Dirt roads were hastily […]

4 days ago

Associated Press

Correction: High Speed Rail-Florida story

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — In a story published Sept. 22, 2023, about the start of high-speed passenger train service between Miami and Orlando, The Associated Press erroneously referred to someone struck and killed by a Brightline train. The victim was a pedestrian, not a passenger.

5 days ago

FILE - Confetti flies as Dearborn mayor candidate Abdullah Hammoud prepares to speak to supporters ...

Associated Press

Census shows 3.5 million Middle Eastern residents in US, Venezuelans fastest growing Hispanic group

The United States had 3.5 million residents who identify as Middle Eastern or North African, Venezuelans were the fastest-growing Hispanic group last decade and Chinese and Asian Indians were the two largest Asian groups, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The most detailed race and ethnicity data to date from the 2020 census was released […]

6 days ago

In this photo provided by Darresha George, her son Darryl George, 17, a junior at Barbers Hill High...

Associated Press

A Black student was suspended for his hairstyle. The school says it wasn’t discrimination

The same week his state outlawed racial discrimination based on hairstyles, a Black high school student in Texas was suspended because school officials said his locs violated the district’s dress code. Darryl George, a junior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, received an in-school suspension after he was told his hair fell below […]

9 days ago

A single-use cup undergoes a rigidity test at the Tryer Center at Starbucks headquarters, Wednesday...

Associated Press

Citing sustainability, Starbucks wants to overhaul its iconic cup. Will customers go along?

Just as noteworthy as what they're carrying is what they are not: the disposable Starbucks cup, an icon in a world where the word is overused.

12 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Swedish Cyberknife...

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

September is a busy month on the sports calendar and also holds a very special designation: Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

Ziply Fiber...

Dan Miller

The truth about Gigs, Gs and other internet marketing jargon

If you’re confused by internet technologies and marketing jargon, you’re not alone. Here's how you can make an informed decision.

Education families...

Education that meets the needs of students, families

Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) is a program of Omak School District that is a full-time online public school for students in grades K-12.

Emergency preparedness...

Emergency planning for the worst-case scenario

What would you do if you woke up in the middle of the night and heard an intruder in your kitchen? West Coast Armory North can help.

Innovative Education...

The Power of an Innovative Education

Parents and students in Washington state have the power to reimagine the K-12 educational experience through Insight School of Washington.

Medicare fraud...

If you’re on Medicare, you can help stop fraud!

Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion each year and ultimately raises the cost of health care for everyone.

Librarians train to defend intellectual freedom and fight book bans at Chicago conference