Free Expression Friday: Book Resumes (Eric Stroshane)

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ABFE spoke to Eric Stroshane, Assistant Director of Member Services for the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, about the amazing collaboration that has led to the Book Resumes project, a collaboration of publishers, libraries, and ALA, and hosted by Unite Against Book Bans.

What is the purpose of the Book Résumés project?

The main purpose is to provide real, valid, contextualized information on titles that we're seeing attacks on in libraries and school districts nationwide. These are essentially documents created by publishers that include things like awards, accolades, and rave reviews that these titles have received, which will help the people either working at those institutions or coming out in defense of their own freedom to read at public meetings have that information at their fingertips.

How are the Book Résumés meant to be used?

What we're seeing, by and large, are attacks based only on excerpts of these titles taken out of context. Those attacks are on access to these books, either at schools or public libraries, and sometimes they're even against the professionals who selected those books, or the institutions themselves. We want to take these books and place them back in context by having excerpts and awards that these titles have won, which have been provided by people who read the book as a whole. The first thing that happens when a book is challenged at an institution is that the librarians have to pull together exactly these resources. They have to show that the book meets the selection criteria that was approved by the board. And usually that means providing information about awards that the book has won, reasons that people would be interested in reading it, and starred reviews from trade publications. So saving them the legwork of having to track all that down is fantastic, especially when there are multiple title requests, just winds up being a huge relief in time and stress for the librarians and for community advocates who just want to be able to access these books and want to make sure that their kids and their families have these resources available. It's a concise way that they can demonstrate the educational value and the other merits that these books have.

What kind of information is included in a book resume?

These are put together by the publishers — the people who know the authors and the books the best — and it will include things like either national or state-level awards that title has won, lists that a book has been selected for, and starred and other rave reviews from professional trade publications like Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, or Library Journal. Some of them include statements from the authors themselves about why they wrote the work and the impact that it's had or what they’ve heard from readers about the book. For graphic novels, there will be defense resources from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Sometimes there'll be letters written by the National Coalition Against Censorship about the title.

How many books are included in the first wave of Book Résumés, and which books did you prioritize?

There are just over 175 titles currently available. The next round will be coming up in April and we're hoping to have a significant increase in what's available at that point. We were looking first at the titles that have been challenged the most frequently in the past three years, from 2021 on, which is really when we saw this organized movement attacking access to books representing certain lived experiences in America and certain author's voices. 

How was the information gathered, and who contributed to the project?

We've worked with a lot of different groups, and a lot of ALA members and ALA staff have contributed as well. The main inspiration for this actually came from the Virginia Library Association. The Virginia Library Association's book resumes project got the attention of Skip Dye at Penguin Random House. Skip is the one who started building this coalition of publishers and suggested UABB to host the project. We’ve partnered with over 70 publishers, and we're hoping to attract more to the effort, as well as other partners. We quickly assembled a technical team, a group of ALA members who helped draft the FAQ and edit the framing narrative of why all this exists. We have a quality control team that's reviewing what the publishers are submitting. And then a lot of ALA staff on the IT side, Unite Against Book Bans on the admin side, the graphic designers, web designers, all kinds of folks. It's a big lift, lots of hands on deck. I’m very happy that we were able to launch as quickly as we did.