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The Power of Words

Posted By Administration, Friday, April 28, 2017
Updated: Thursday, April 27, 2017

Emily Visness, The Bookish Advocate, shared her April 11 blog post, “The Power of Words” with us. Emily is a middle school teacher, mom, blogger, and reading advocate. Her post was inspired by the recent release of ALA's Banned Books Week theme for 2017, and the top ten list of most challenged books for 2016.

Thank you for sharing this important perspective with FTRF blog followers!.

The Power of Words by The Bookish Advocate


Tags:  ALA-OIF  BBW grants  Emily Visness  Judith Krug Memorial Fund 

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Celebrate the Freedom to Read with a Grant from FTRF

Posted By Administration, Monday, April 24, 2017

Free people read freely! Would you like to create an exciting program, host a community conversation, or create an exciting display celebrating the freedom to read?

Applications are open for libraries and organizations to receive a grant from FTRF to host a program during Banned Books Weeks, Sept. 24-30, 2017. Grants of $1,000 or $2,500 are offered through the Judith F. Krug Memorial Fund.

To see examples of the organizations and projects that past recipients have created, and to apply, please visit The application deadline is May 12, 2017.

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Investing in Each Other

Posted By Administration, Thursday, April 20, 2017

I was proofing the latest issue of the Journal of Intellectual Freedom and Privacy and read the powerful lead story about Gordon Conable. Conable, at one time the president of the Freedom to Read Foundation, got embroiled in a public challenge to Madonna's book Sex. At the time of the challenge, he was director of the Monroe County Library System in Michigan. The controversy was so bitter and so deep — there were death threats against both Conable and his 5-year-old son — that eventually Conable and his family left the community altogether.

Let me emphasize that Conable was almost the perfect librarian for the cause. Publicly and privately, Conable maintained a calm, articulate, tactful, and principled demeanor. It's hard to imagine a better spokesperson for intellectual freedom. He continually emphasized the First Amendment, library policy, and the teachable moment of a community dialogue.

While there was certainly some support for him and his family, there was also almost unimaginable community nastiness. His wife said she believes the stress eventually led to his high blood pressure and untimely death.

So my thoughts turn to something this month that I believe deserves greater consideration. We — members of the Freedom to Read Foundation — are part of a values-centered community. We know that we have an obligation to stand up for the principles of the Library Bill of Rights. But I want to emphasize that we have another obligation: to notice when one of us is in trouble, and to rally not just to the defense of a book, but to the defense of our champions. Very often, when we receive reports of challenges at the Office for Intellectual Freedom, the librarians are genuinely worried. They know that speaking truth to a power that grows secretive and authoritarian is a risky business. One can lose one's livelihood, and also an underlying faith in humanity.

You'll see that we're pushing a number of opportunities in this issue. First is the Conable Scholarship, dedicated to this brave man, and to a rising generation we hope will be inspired by his example (the scholarship pays to get people to ALA conferences). We are also offering scholarships for library and information science (LIS) students around the country, and grants for Banned Books Week through the Judith F. Krug Memorial Fund. Judy, of course, was another fierce defender of intellectual freedom and libraries. Of course, we also support the LeRoy C. Merritt Humanitarian Fund, which provides direct financial aid to those fighting IF battles or workplace discrimination.

So I want to encourage you to contribute to these causes, if you can, but even more importantly, to reach out to encourage applications to scholarships and creative Banned Books Week funding. Ultimately, our investment is not just in ideas. It is in each other.

James LaRue
Office for Intellectual Freedom & The Freedom to Read Foundation

Photo: left to right, Keith Michael Fiels, Candy Morgan, Gordon Conable, Maurice Friedman, Judith Krug, and Nancy Kranich. 2003, following the oral arguments on the CIPA case.

Tags:  Conable Fund 

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FTRF Joins Statement in Support of Freedom of the Press

Posted By Administration, Thursday, March 2, 2017

Statement in Support of Freedom of the Press

“In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government's power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the government.”  Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black

As organizations committed to the First Amendment right of freedom of speech and the press, we are alarmed by the efforts of the President and his administration to demonize and marginalize the media and to undermine their ability to inform the public about official actions and policies.  

Such efforts include the President’s refusal to answer questions posed by a reporter from CNN because the President asserts it promotes “fake news”; charges that the media “manipulated” images of the inauguration; false accusations that the media has covered up terrorist attacks; and repeated claims that the media is “failing” and “dishonest.”  All of this recently culminated in the President calling the New York Times, CBS, CNN, ABC, and NBC News “the enemy of the American People!” and in the exclusion of representatives of various media outlets from a press briefing.  In these and other examples, the President and his designees have attempted to villainize and discredit the press for any reporting he dislikes.  However, the job of the press is not to please the President but to inform the public, a function that is essential to democracy.  

The expressions of disdain for the press and its role in democracy by federal officials send a signal to state and local officials.  In the aftermath of an election season that witnessed outright intimidation of journalists in communities around the country, there is a compelling need for highly placed federal officials to acknowledge the crucial role of a free press under our Constitution and the responsibility of government officials at all levels to respect it. In one chilling example, multiple individuals who identified themselves as journalists were arrested, detained, and charged with felonies while simply doing their job: reporting on Inauguration Day protests in Washington, D.C. Those arrests were made by local police and pursued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, both of which displayed an alarming lack of concern for fundamental constitutional rights.  The fact that those charges have since been dropped suggests that the arrests were unwarranted and highlights the need for our nation’s leaders to set national policy that unequivocally supports a free and independent press and the public’s right to know.

Our Constitution enshrines the press as an independent watchdog and bulwark against tyranny and official misconduct. Its function is to monitor and report on the actions of public officials so that the public can hold them accountable.  The effort to delegitimize the press undermines democracy, and officials who challenge the value of an independent press or question its legitimacy betray the country’s most cherished values and undercut one of its most significant strengths.

The First Amendment protects the right to protest, dissent, and petition government for a redress of grievances, but these rights cannot be exercised without a free press that provides information to the public.  Together, these rights represent the constitutionally sanctioned method for the public to oppose government policies and activities and to seek change.  The wisdom of this system can be seen in parts of the world where such a right does not exist, or is not honored, and violent opposition is the only available avenue to express opposition or remedy injustice.

We condemn in the strongest possible terms all efforts by elected and appointed officials to penalize, delegitimize, or intimidate members of the press. 

March 2, 2017

Endorsed by:

Alliance for Community Media

Alliance for Media Arts + Culture

American Association of Law Libraries

American Booksellers Association

American Civil Liberties Union

American Civil Liberties of the

District of Columbia

American Library Association

American Society of Business  Publication Editors

American Society of Copy Editors

American Society of Journalists and Authors

American Society of Magazine Editors

American Society of Media Photographers

American Society of News Editors

Arizona Press Club

Asian American Journalists Association

Associated Collegiate Press

Associated Press Media Editors

Associated Press Photo Managers

Association of Alternative Newsmedia

Association of American Editorial Cartoonists

Association of American University Presses

Association of Food Journalists

Association of Health Care Journalists

Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication

Association of Research Libraries

Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication

Authors Guild

Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending

Dissent Foundation

CCTV Center for Media & Democracy

Center for Media and Democracy

Center for Responsive Politics

Center for Scholastic Journalism

College Media Association

Colorado Press Women

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Committee to Protect Journalists

Demand Progress

Education Writers Association

Freedom of the Press Foundation

Freedom to Read Foundation

Free Press

Free Speech Coalition

Electronic Frontier Foundation

Institute for Nonprofit News

Investigative Reporters and Editors

Journalism and Women Symposium

Journalism Education Association

Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library

Local Independent Online News Publishers

Media Freedom Foundation

Media Law Resource Center

Military Reporters and Editors

National Association of Black Journalists

National Association of Hispanic Journalists

National Association of Science Writers

National Coalition Against Censorship

National Federation of Community Broadcasters

National Press Foundation

National Press Photographers Association

National Scholastic Press Association

National Society of Newspaper Columnists

National Writers Union

Native American Journalists Association

New England First Amendment Coalition

North American Agricultural Journalists

Online News Association

PEN America

People For the American Way Foundation

Project Censored

Radio Television Digital News Association

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Reporters Without Borders

Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law

Student Press Law Center

Sunlight Foundation

The Media Consortium

The NewsGuild-CWA

Tully Center for Free Speech

Unity: Journalists For Diversity

Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts

Washington-Baltimore News Guild

Women's Media Center

Woodhull Freedom Foundation

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One Teacher’s Fight Against Quiet Censorship

Posted By Administration, Monday, February 13, 2017
by Emily Visness

In the past few years I’ve made an extra effort to read books by and about people from marginalized groups. The reasons are many, ranging from a desire for personal growth and understanding of people who are different from myself to simply wanting to liven up my reading life, but the main reason I read diversely is my students. I co-teach in 8th grade Language Arts and Social Studies classes in a Title 1 middle school (a school that receives federal financial assistance due to a high percentage of students from low-income families), and much of my job consists of getting kids to read. My students often don’t know what to read, or how to find a book that suits them, so I give a lot of book recommendations. Sometimes I give students books that reflect their own life experiences. Other times I recommend books to students with characters whose lives are different from their own. I believe that when students read a diverse array of stories they have the opportunity to grow into dynamic, empathetic, self-confident and accepting people. However, sometimes age-appropriate books with diverse characters are quietly removed from school libraries and classrooms because adults think the subject matter is inappropriate for kids. This is an effort to erase the experiences of certain groups of people. As a teacher of kids who identify with those groups, I believe it’s my responsibility to fight against that in any way I can.

Out of all the forms of censorship, quiet censorship is, to me, the most insidious. An act of quiet censorship is done through one person’s private decision to keep kids from accessing a book because the book conflicts with that person’s own beliefs. In other words, the adult either removes a book or doesn’t include a book in a collection because they believe something about the book is wrong or inappropriate, and therefore no child should read about it. This differs from self-censorship, which is when an adult removes or excludes a book to avoid the possibility of offending others, even when they have not been officially told to do so. The thing is, many schools have students living the experiences that are kept from them through acts of quiet censorship. Kids shouldn’t be made to feel that their stories are not worth telling. I’ve seen firsthand the excitement of a student reading a story about a character who looks like him or her, or has a similar life situation, or practices the same religion, or is also struggling with mental health. Although I try to know my students as well as possible, I often don’t know every aspect of their lives, and students have things they keep private. I may not know which student will need that book, but I certainly want that book to be available to students who need it!

Acts of quiet censorship by other adults are out of my control because, frankly, I probably won’t hear about them. It’s the nature of quiet censorship. I don’t even know of any instances in my school, although I’ve occasionally heard workroom stories about it happening in other schools. What is in my control is to create a positive, trusting relationship with students so they know I will advocate for them, and one way I can do that is by sharing diverse stories with them. I teach students of different races, religions, and sexual orientations, students who have various family structures, students who have disabilities (both visible and invisible), students who are immigrants, students with mental health issues, students whose families are dealing with addiction, students who live in foster families, and students who live in poverty. Their individual struggles are immense, yet they are brave, and bold, and resilient. We say that books are windows and mirrors. It’s every student’s right to look into that mirror, or through that window, and be validated by seeing themselves or grow by seeing someone else in the pages of a book.

Every year in one of my 8th grade ELA classes, my co-teacher and I hold a drawing for a student’s chance to read All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (I only have one copy in my classroom library, hence the drawing). The drawing is held as the book project for that grading period is introduced, which includes the requirement of finding a news article about a current event that is similar to the conflict in the book a student chooses. All American Boys is a story told from a dual point of view – one black teenage boy and one white teenage boy – and the story centers around an act of police brutality toward an innocent black teen. Once I book-talk this book to our class and give students a chance to include their names in the drawing, I have several hands go up. Most of those hands, with a few exceptions, belong to the black boys. This story is a reality for them as a black teenage boy in America. This book tells the story of what their mothers worry about as they go out into the world each day. They are interested in reading this story because it could so easily, and frighteningly, be their own. Who am I to keep them from this story? This is only one example, and I don’t always get it right the first time. As a teacher, I do this for every child to the best of my ability. It’s my responsibility and my privilege to read diverse books for them, recommend diverse books to them, and promote diversity in the choosing of books for their school.

My school’s library has a great selection of diverse books, and our librarian goes above and beyond to make sure the collection is inclusive. We’re lucky - there are many options for my students to choose from. While accessibility is key, I don’t just put diverse books like All American Boys on my classroom library shelf and hope kids find it. I share it with them. We as teachers and librarians must fight quiet censorship by actively recommending diverse books for curriculum adoption, summer reading lists, school book clubs, or a class book study. We must book-talk diverse books to students and introduce them to new stories. We must challenge them to read books with characters who are different from themselves. We must give them stories they can identify with to show them that their own stories matter. We can fight quiet censorship by making the voices of the inclusive louder than those of the exclusive.

We as teachers and librarians have the power to collectively change the norm, reset the default, upset the status quo; we just have to use it.

Emily is a Title 1 middle school teacher who promotes reading to her students and actively attempts to put relevant books into their hands, a mom who is raising passionate readers, a believer in the importance of diverse literature for young people, a lover of banned or challenged books, and an advocate for all students’ right to read. She writes about her experiences, thoughts, and beliefs surrounding reading and books on her blog The Bookish Advocate ( You can also find her on Facebook (The Bookish Advocate), Twitter (@bookishadvocate), and Instagram (TheBookishAdvocate).

Tags:  censorship  Emily Visness 

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