FAQ: Free Expression and ABFE

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We, at ABA, are always listening, thinking and re-evaluating how we can best serve bookstores’ free expression needs. Change is often confusing, so we crafted this list of some of your top questions. Please reach out and let us know how we are doing at [email protected] or (914) 406-7562. We’d love to hear from you.

For more information on free expression and ABA’s Ends Policies, see FAQ: First Amendment, Free Expression and ABA’s Ends Policies, determined by the ABA Board of Directors.

Q: What is ABFE?

A: The American Booksellers for Free Expression (ABFE) is part of our advocacy efforts for bookstores. Our goal is for ABFE to help bookstores have the resources they need in support of their right to free expression. In addition, ABFE helps ensure that legal and regulatory policies are in the interest of indie bookstores. ABFE is a member of multiple coalitions to support bookstores: Banned Books Week Coalition, Kids’ Right to Read Project, Free Expression Network, and Media Coalition.

We recently refreshed ABFE’s logo to include a new tagline: “ABA’s free expression initiative.”  We hope this helps clear up confusion about ABFE’s role within ABA.

Q: What are the most recent changes with ABFE, and what does that mean for my bookstore?

A: We know change can be confusing and that the virtual world sometimes makes communication difficult. To that end, we want to make sure booksellers understand the recent changes. Booksellers should rest assured that the “changes” are not changes to the kind of free expression work ABA/ABFE does. It’s just a change in how the free expression work is split between ABA/ABFE.

Before, free expression work was divided between ABFE and ABA as a whole — with ABFE’s main focus being creating resources for bookstores and ABA’s main free expression focus being signing public statements and letters in line with ABA’s commitment to antiracism, equity, access, and representation.

Now, ABFE does all of ABA’s free expression work: creating resources for bookstores and signing public statements and letters. Since ABFE is part of ABA, all of ABFE’s work reflects a commitment to antiracism, equity, access, and representation. If bookstores’ free expression needs or concerns are not within this focus, ABFE will happily connect bookstores with one or more of our coalition partners that can help offer support.

We hope that focusing all of ABA’s free expression work through ABFE will make it easier for booksellers to understand our free expression work. Please don’t hesitate to reach out at [email protected] or (914) 406-7562. We love to hear booksellers’ thoughts and perspectives as we continue to do the work.

Q: How will ABFE decide which public statements and letters to sign?

A: Much like the rest of our work, ABFE will use the UN’s definition of hate speech: “...any kind of communication in speech, writing or behaviour, that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are, in other words, based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, descent, gender or other identity factor.”

ABFE will only sign public statements and letters about free expression issues that are directly related to indie bookstores’ needs and that are consistent with ABA’s commitment to antiracism, equity, access, and representation (i.e., are not considered hate speech).

Q: How is ABFE’s current free expression work different from its work before the Ends Policies changes?

A: This is a question we are asked a lot, and it’s certainly understable why. There have been many discussions about ABFE and updates to its role over the past two years that things start to blur together and get confused. 

The main differences between ABFE’s work before and after the Ends Policies changes are that ABFE now doesn’t make public statements or sign letters that are:

  1. Not related to bookselling
  2. Not in line with ABA’s commitment to antiracism, equity, access, and representation.

We believe that other organizations like the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) are already doing and are better suited to do this work. We have close relationships with these organizations and are happy to connect booksellers with them.

Q: Does ABFE still have resources available for bookstores?

A: Yes! ABFE’s free expression resources are on BookWeb.org. We monitor the resources for updates annually or sooner, as necessary. Many of the resources are templates that booksellers can customize. Don’t see what you’re looking for? Contact ABFE at [email protected] or (914) 406-7562 to suggest ideas for additional resources.

Q: How can I keep up-to-date with ABFE’s free expression work?

A: We want to make sure that booksellers know what ABFE is up to so you can provide us with important feedback. Each quarter, we upload ABFE’s free expression work to BookWeb.org. You can find ABFE’s current work through March 31, 2022. We also announce all updates to ABFE’s work in Bookselling This Week.

Q: How can I contact ABFE?

A: We always encourage booksellers to reach out to us! You can contact ABFE at [email protected] or (914) 406-7562.