New York Library: young people read banned books online for free
The Brooklyn Public Library is offering a free library card to anyone in the United States between the ages of 13 and 21 who wants to view and read books digitally in response to the nationwide wave of censorship and book restrictions. (July 8) (AP Video/Ted Shaffrey)
CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Martha Hickson isn’t one to let sleeping dogs lie — or censorship to thrive.
In preparation for September’s Banned Books Week, Hickson has partnered with iorad, a Boston-based software company, and launched Demo Defense, a nationwide online resource to help fight censorship.
Hickson, a librarian at North Hunterdon High School, has spent much of the 2021-2022 school year fighting off personal attacks and opposing the removal of LGBTQ books from district libraries.
In turn, the American Library Association awarded Hickson the Lemony Snicket Award for Noble Librarians in the Face of Adversity.
Now, with Arlen Kimmelman, director of program engagement at iorad, Hickson has created Demo Defense, a list of places people can report any book censorship they encounter.
The hope is to increase awareness of censorship wherever it is found and the need to report it.
“If you, as a parent, as a member of the community become aware of attempts to censor or limit library books, library programs, library displays, then you, as a private citizen, You can report this censorship attempt using the resources we provide in iorad,” Hickson said.
During the 2021-2022 school year, Hickson was targeted when parents and other community members sought to remove five LGBTQ-themed books from the North Hunterdon High School library. She opposed the action, which began during “Banned Books Week”.
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The group called her a “pornographer” and a “paedophile” for allowing children access to the books in question. For months, Hickson faced personal attacks in the form of hate mail, threats, vandalism, and questions about his judgment and integrity. She said the adversity became so overwhelming and extreme that her blood pressure and anxiety increased and her doctor removed her from the workplace.
“Right now there’s another librarian in Louisiana – Amanda Jones,” Kimmelman said. “She’s going through the same thing now. It’s a personal attack, and no one should have to put up with that.”
Along with guides on how to report challenges to the books, Demo Defense offers ways to support organizations that champion intellectual freedom, such as Each library and United against book bans. All organizations came to Hickson’s defense and gave him their support.
“We know that people don’t like filling out forms and find them confusing. And using that to explain it, it made forms really easy for people to fill out. It just made them accessible,” said Kimmelman. “And then we realized the same thing happens when people can try to donate to these organizations that help them.”
“I’ve had quite a bit of feedback from fellow librarians across the country who have said it’s been great, to have a resource in one place, and they’re interested in using it not just in case they have a challenge, but also sharing it with their own community of library users,” Hickson said. “So that the general public can also feel comfortable. Librarians were our first target in terms of dissemination and they have fully embraced it and are keeping it in their back pockets when the situation arises. And sadly, the situation seems to be on the rise these days.” Hickson and Kimmelman began work on it in July, planning a release in time for Banned Books Week. It debuted in late August and in within 24 hours of posting Demo Defense on Twitter, over 2,264 impressions and 110 engagements were received.
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More recent statistics found 520 visits to the resource, including at least six from Germany, Kimmelman said.
Kimmelman, a former New Jersey school librarian, and Hickson previously knew each other from the New Jersey Association of School Librarians. Already a fan of iorad, Hickson often used its technology in his daily teaching activity to create tutorials after seeing a presentation by Kimmelman at a spring workshop.
“The iorad philosophy is that knowledge belongs to everyone and is meant to be shared,” said Dipti Patel, iorad Chief Happiness Officer. “Our goal is to put Demo Defense in the hands of every school and public librarian in the country to effectively prevent and combat censorship.”
North Hunterdon’s first two board meetings of the 2022-23 school year were uneventful, Hickson said.
“It was the first time in a year that neither the library or library books nor the librarian was mentioned in a derogatory way,” Hickson said. “However, three of the people involved in the book ban are now running for board seats, so I am holding my breath on this.”
Although the experience took its toll on Hickson, she did not walk away and abandon her principles.
“I guess it’s like what they do with iron and forged by fire,” Hickson said. “I don’t want to trivialize people who have been through a period of war or a really traumatic situation, but there is a kind of lingering PTSD associated with it. So when I watch the news, and I see a rant going on and another board meeting, it’s like those emotions come back in. But day by day, I feel like I’m on my feet again.
She is happy that some positives came out of the ordeal.
“My feeling is that it would have been a wasted effort to go through this experience and not try to make something positive out of it,” she said. “I feel like it’s good if my ability is to express myself and I think that’s something I’m able to do. I somehow have a greater level of comfort for tell my story than some other librarians.”
She has empathy for other librarians caught in the same situation and she is lucky to be able to express herself.
“Because there are people who are actually in a position where they can’t – either because their job is at stake because they don’t have a union to protect them like I did, either because their safety is at stake because maybe they have Proud Boys coming into their library, which is actually happening,” she said. “So far I have a job with union protection. And so far, I haven’t had a Proud Boy in front of me. So as long as I have a voice, I have to use it.”
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Cheryl Makin is an award-winning feature film and education journalist for MyCentralJersey.com, which is part of the USA Today network. Contact: [email protected] or @CherylMakin. To get unlimited access, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.