Hendrix College News

‘On the Frontlines of Free Speech’ Panel at Hendrix College Library Feb. 23

Conway Institute of Music

Project Pericles and Bailey Library to co-host discussion on libraries and censorship

CONWAY, Arkansas (February 20, 2023)—In observance of National Library Lovers Month, Bailey Library and Project Pericles at Hendrix College will host a panel discussion, On the Frontlines of Free Speech: Libraries & Censorship. The discussion will take place in the Learning Commons of Bailey Library (building 8 on the current campus map) on Thursday, Feb. 23 from 4:10-5:00 p.m., and is free and open to the public.

The panel will feature professionals from three settings:

Dr. Jonathan Hancock is an associate professor of history and directs Project Pericles at Hendrix.
Dr. Erin Shaw is an assistant professor at the University of Central Arkansas and coordinates the Graduate Library Media & Information Technologies Program in the Department of Leadership Studies.
Adam Webb leads the Garland County Library System, which includes the city of Hot Springs, and serves as president of Advocates for All Arkansas Libraries.

Throughout the 2021-22 school year, more than 1,600 book titles were banned in the U.S., according to a report from the group PEN America, which advocates for freedom of expression. The surge in book bans is a result of a network of local political and advocacy groups targeting books with LGBTQ+ characters and storylines, and books involving characters of color. The American Library Association (ALA) issued a report in September that indicated challenges to books continue to rise this academic year. Based on their records, 1,651 unique titles were targeted between January and August 2022, with 681 attempts to ban or restrict library resources. The ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom counted 729 challenges to library, school, and university materials in 2021— which rose four-fold from the prior year.

The trend is reflected in Arkansas. Public library displays, story times, and collections have come under scrutiny from members of the public. School libraries have seen challenges from groups such as Moms for Liberty, and librarians have received death threats.

While academic libraries in Arkansas haven’t seen as many challenges to their materials, many curricular resources supporting teaching of race and inequity are being questioned, as is affirmative action and its role in college admissions and the support for offices of diversity, equity, and inclusion. In the fall of 2022, the Conway School Board voted to remove two books from Conway Junior High that featured LGBTQ themes. Legislation to regulate what libraries have on their shelves and in their networks and what kind of access libraries provide to minors is currently in committee in the Arkansas State Legislature.

“Libraries have always supported access to information from various viewpoints and various backgrounds, but this can create tension when one segment of the population views materials as inappropriate or offensive,” said Britt Anne Murphy, panel moderator and director of the library for Hendrix. “We want to be sure everyone can see themselves reflected in a library collection, and the First Amendment ensures that individuals have that access. But librarians also defend and respect the rights of individuals to choose. We want individuals to make their own choices and to make choices for their children, but we don’t want them to be able to make choices for everyone.”

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