A record number of book challenges were recorded in 2021-2022 - including award winning graphic novels New Kid, Gender Queer, and Maus. Historically book challenges have focused on three areas: children’s or YA titles, titles with “diverse content,” and titles / formats that have previously been challenged. And, year over year, and especially these past few years, comics and graphic novels have been one of the most challenged formats. But why?
- Accessibility: A strength of comics and graphic novels is their ability to, in a single panel, share a multitude of information and emotional resonance with their readers. This makes them powerful, accessible, and, when taken out of context, easily misunderstood.
- Misunderstanding the medium: For a variety of reasons, misperceptions persist around comic books and graphic novels, two of the largest being that “comics are for kids” and/or that comics are for “reluctant readers.”
- Historical bias: Many have forgotten that comics were censored, restricted, and, in many countries, banned under the criminal code. And though the research behind this 1950s comics moral panic has been successfully disproved, the stigma around comics remains for many along with decades of normalized gatekeeping and restrictions.
To proactively fight these bans and challenges specific to the comics and graphic novel format the GNCRT Addressing Challenges Toolkit provides strategies to address Comics Challenges BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER they happen including:
- Do you have a SELECTION POLICY, so that you can justify how the book became part of the collection in the first place? Is your policy transparent and publicly available on your website? Does it include comics?
- Do you have a separate CHALLENGE POLICY in place? If not, create one.
- If so, does your CHALLENGE POLICY address (a) how challenges are handled and (b) how reconsideration requests take place? Who is a challenge first point of contact? What are the steps in the process? Is your policy accessible and transparent?
- IDENTIFY STAKEHOLDERS in your library system--should a book be challenged, who are the parties who may be involved, and what is their relationship with your library like? Who, ultimately, is responsible for the decision on whether to keep a book or not?
- COMPARE POLICY MODELS. Are your policies the best they can be? Check out examples from the ALA Selection and Reconsideration Challenge Policy database.
- PAY ATTENTION to books being challenged around the nation, and particularly in your area. If a group makes a challenge in the district or service area next door, there’s a high possibility they’ll try you next. Routinely check your library’s copies of the challenged books to see if they are missing or defaced without being formally challenged.
- BUILD ADVOCACY internally and externally. Whether it is a Teen Advisory Group, parent organization, local professional network, or national advocacy groups, find your people. Use events like Banned Books Week to build community contacts.
- What are the REVIEWS of the book? Are there references to it in Kirkus, Booklist, School Library Journal, and other reputable sources like No Flying No Tights that you can use to make the case for inclusion? Is it an award winner or other notable title?
- For schools, are there connections to CURRICULUM that you can make to show why the book is important for the collection? Remember, curriculum isn’t just academics--it also encompasses the social-emotional goals of the school.
- For both school and public libraries, does the book FILL A NEED for underserved communities in your service area, or for a gap in your current collection?
- Is your CHALLENGE PROCESS being followed? If steps are being preempted or given only token attention (i.e. a book is removed before a challenge is decided and all steps followed), this is soft censorship.
- What COMMUNITY SUPPORTS are available to you? Should you involve the media? Your professional organization? Your union? Parent groups? Friends of the Library groups? Local advocacy groups (LGBTQ groups, NAACP, etc.)? National groups (CBLDF, ACLU, PEN America)? Who can help you carry this burden?
- REPORT the challenge to the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom: https://www.ala.org/tools/challengesupport/report The OIF estimates that ~85% of all challenges go unreported, especially instances of soft censorship. All information shared with OIF is confidential and will not be shared. Support is available.
- Win, lose, or draw, make it a point to THANK the people who helped you - you may need them again.
- UPDATE your policies where needed to strengthen them against future challenges. Are there areas in your selection or challenge policy that were shown to be deficient? If so, how do you have them formally changed?
- Many challenge policies have a “COOLING OFF” period where the same book cannot be challenged again for 2-3 years. Is this in place for your library?
- PREPARE by asking - are there books similar to your challenged comic that may also trigger a challenge? Particularly with LGBTQ+ friendly books, titles that are being lumped in as “critical race theory” (CRT), and, especially, titles like these for youth readers, if they come for one title, book challengers will quite likely come for more.
- LIVE to library another day. You are not alone.
In February 2022, GNCRT launched the Addressing Challenges Committee - a new committee focused on preparing for and addressing bans, challenges, and other forms of censorship to comics and graphic novels in libraries.
2022 witnessed a record number of comic book and graphic novel challenges and outright bans (bans = material being removed from shelves). Comics and Graphic Novels are also amongst the most popular, most lauded, and most loved items on our shelves.
We can do better to support each other and our readers.
In addition to our "Be Prepared!" checklist, our Committee has compiled other professional tools to help prepare for, fight, and rebound from comics censorship in library of all types.
Please note, the Committee’s resources are NOT a way to report a challenges occurring in real time; if you are dealing with a current challenge / ban please contact our colleagues at the American Library Association (ALA) Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF) for immediate support and to log that challenge: https://www.ala.org/tools/challengesupport/report
Please check out our ‘Trade Secrets’ article in the February 2022 issue of Booklist in which we introduce our new committee, give some collection development tips to fight challenges, and discuss why some comics are challenged more than other materials.
Launched in April 2022, this survey is to help the Committee better understand the specific contexts around challenges to comics and graphic novels, and to better support comics librarianship in all its forms. Working with OIF and other library colleagues like the ALA Intellectual Freedom Round Table (IFRT), our goal is to create better resources to prepare for and address comic book bans, challenges, and other forms of censorship in libraries and schools.
This survey will be one of the first large-scale information-collection endeavors to tackle the question of comics challenges in libraries and schools, hearing directly from a range and spectrum of library workers and educators. Whether or not you have experienced a challenge to comics in your present or past library/school, the GNCRT would like to learn more about:
- your training or background in dealing with challenges
- the context around any comics challenges you have experienced
- how can we help — what resources, knowledge, talking points, and community support do you need to prepare for and address challenges to comics in your libraries?
This survey is open to ALL — educators, library workers, administrators, library students, public libraries, academic libraries, and K-12 school libraries. All of the survey information will be kept and shared anonymously unless we have the explicit permission of the respondent.
We estimate the survey will take 5-10 minutes to complete.
Read more about our Survey in our Launch PRESS RELEASE.
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