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The annual Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to read


It's Banned Books Week, an event that the American Library Association says celebrates the freedom to read amid new waves of censorship. Jamie Gregory was named South Carolina's School Librarian of the Year, but she told me that it didn't shield her when she endorsed one of the most banned books in the country.

JAMIE GREGORY: A local state senator shared a tweet that I had posted in support of this book, "Gender Queer." And he turned that into saying that I was indoctrinating students, that I was grooming students, that I should be fired.

MARTÍNEZ: Administrators at Gregory's school in Greenville, S.C., stood by her, and now she advocates for access.

GREGORY: I know of other librarians in my state like me, who have been personally attacked. We've contacted the police at certain times because we've received threatening messages on social media. There are some librarians who don't want to speak out to defend intellectual freedom rights for all students because they know their communities and they don't want to be shut out.

MARTÍNEZ: How much of this has made you angry, maybe even rethink being a librarian?

GREGORY: I have never rethought being part of this profession. I will say, the emotions that I felt, especially when I was going through when all of it was happening, was a lot of frustration. And there was actually a lot of fear because I remember thinking, you know, what if this is it? And everything that I've worked for through my 19 years of working as an educator, what if it's over? And that's where a lot of librarians are right now.

And it is extremely frustrating because we know that a lot of this started out of politics. And also, you know, librarians have an extremely important job in a democracy. We are trying to ensure that people are informed, as informed as they can be and as informed as they want to be. We make information available to them so they can access that information equitably.

MARTÍNEZ: Do you think all of this could be a chilling effect on people to continue their jobs as librarians or even maybe just completely dissuade people from becoming librarians in the first place?

GREGORY: Yes, I do think that is a real possibility, and I do think that is actually happening. We have - my state organization of school librarians, we have very strong connections with our university in South Carolina, the School of Library and Information Science, that trains future school librarians. And they certainly have begun to incorporate a lot of materials in classes on, OK, you know, these are the current trends in censorship. What do you need to learn about that in order to prepare for a future career in librarianship?

Of course, nobody wants to go into a profession thinking that they could get fired because of people they can't even predict that might have a problem with what they're doing. And every school district is different. Every school district can have a different local policy about how books are selected or deselected. And actually, one chilling effect that we're seeing right now in our state is some school districts are trying to change the way that they do select books and taking some of that responsibility away from the professional school librarian in the building.

MARTÍNEZ: Jamie Gregory is a high school librarian, and she writes about intellectual freedom for the American Library Association. Jamie, thanks a lot.

GREGORY: Thank you so much. *

(SOUNDBITE OF CLEM SNIDE'S "EVIL VS GOOD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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