Discussion: Safeguarding Intellectual Freedom – How to Counter Censorship and the Criminalization of Librarianship in America

Event Start Date: Tuesday, August 29, 2023 - 3:00 pm

Event End Date: Tuesday, August 29, 2023 - 4:30 pm

Location: Virtual / Zoom EST

American librarians are increasingly becoming the latest targets in the political and cultural wars spreading across the country, part of a growing movement to ban books, censor ideas, and restrict educators’ ability to discuss race, gender, identity, and LGBTQ+ issues in the classroom. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Juno Dawson’s This Book is Gay, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, have all landed on recent censorship lists in 2022 alone, which the American Library Association (ALA) reports was a year that saw the “highest number of attempted book bans since ALA began compiling data about censorship in libraries more than 20 years ago.”

How can freedom-to-read advocates and community members respond to counter these divisive strategies and rhetoric which portray libraries as spaces of indoctrination and librarians as villains peddling harmful literature?

Inspired by recent scholarship, such as The Urge to Censor: Raw Power, Social Control, and the Criminalization of Librarianship (Paul T. Jaeger et al), and motivated by the turmoil facing ALA, with censorship proponents calling for conservative states to end their memberships in ALA and some ALA members calling for a bifurcation of the organization into “liberal” and “conservative” ideologies, the University of Maryland Libraries presents a virtual dialog among experts and scholars in the field, on Tuesday, August 29, 2023, from 3:00-4:30 pm ET, to examine the challenges facing academic and public libraries and explore the actions that can be taken to ensure libraries remain bastions of intellectual freedom for all.

This webinar is offered as part of the UMD Libraries’ Living Democracy Initiative.


  • Emily Drabinski, President, American Library Association, and academic librarian and author
  • Paul T. Jaeger, Professor and Distinguished Scholar-Teacher, UMD College of Information Studies, Director of the Museum Scholarship and Material Culture graduate program, and Associate Director of the Maryland Initiative for Digital Accessibility
  • Emily Knox, Associate Professor, School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and author of Book Banning in 21st Century America (Rowman & Littlefield) and co-editor of Foundations of Information Ethics (ALA Neal-Schuman)
  • Felton Thomas, Jr., Executive Director of Cleveland Public Library (CPL) and has furthered the mission of CPL to be “The People’s University”, including launching initiatives aimed at addressing community needs in the areas of access to technology, education, and economic development.

Moderator: Lae’l Hughes-Watkins, Associate Director, SCUA, Engagement, Inclusion, and Reparative Archiving

Host: Adriene Lim, Dean of UMD Libraries

Speaker(s): Emily Drabinski (ALA), Paul T. Jaeger (UMD), Emily Knox (UIUC), Felton Thomas, Jr. (CPL)


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