Q&A On ABA and Free Expression
In this Q&A, the ABA Board answers some questions about recent revisions to the Ends Policies which relate to freedom of expression and commitment to antiracism, equity, access, and representation.
What are the Ends Policies?
The ABA is governed by Bylaws, which are voted on by the membership. Additionally, the elected directors of the Board, who serve as representatives of member stores, establish Ends Policies, which reflect the values and priorities of the association. Formulated as a set of desired outcomes, the Ends Policies are reviewed periodically as a normal function of the Board’s governance work. The CEO, in turn, decides how to achieve the Ends Policies and directs the ABA staff in their daily work of providing members with education, advocacy, marketing, e-commerce, and partnerships.
Since ABA members don't vote on Ends Policies, how can they influence the policies and outcomes of the association?
While members themselves don’t vote on Ends Policies, they do nominate Board candidates, vote for Board directors, and communicate with the directors (via email, Board office hours, Town Hall, regional annual meetings, and volunteer councils). These all serve to inform the actions of Board directors on behalf of the membership. Eligible members can also nominate themselves and run to serve on the Board.
What changes were made to the Ends Policies this year and why?
The Ends Policies have historically included support for freedom of expression as a desired outcome for ABA’s work. In January 2021, the Board added a commitment to DEI values and substituted “First Amendment” for “freedom of expression.” As the year went on, it became apparent to the Board that further changes were needed to enable the association to serve a diverse membership, keep hateful material out of what ABA provides booksellers, and focus association efforts more on issues related to bookstores and booksellers. For these reasons, the Board in October removed the First Amendment reference in the advocacy section of the Ends Policies, and added a sentence in the education section asserting that the ABA will ensure "core members have the resources in support of their right to freedom of expression.”
How will these changes guide ABA's work?
In the area of free expression, the association will concentrate on assisting members with specific challenges. It will do this by providing resources such as templates for statements of free expression or privacy and information on how to prepare for controversial author events. It also will host a hotline for stores that face freedom of expression or privacy emergencies, such as event protesters and subpoenas for customer records. The branch of the ABA that has been responsible for free expression activities — the American Booksellers for Free Expression (ABFE) — will remain funded by the association and within the structure of ABA, and member stores will continue to enjoy full access to ABFE’s consulting and support when they need assistance. In addition, ABFE will continue to promote Banned Books Week, contribute financially to the Kids’ Right to Read Project, and connect stores to this project on issues involving schools and libraries. ABFE also will continue to co-sign amicus briefs through the Media Coalition, although this support will be limited to issues pertaining to bookstores and booksellers.
For more information on any of these partners, programs, or policies, please see:
ABFE website – https://www.bookweb.org/advocacy#abfe
Banned Books Week website – https://bannedbooksweek.org/
Kids’ Right to Read Project website – https://ncac.org/project/the-kids-right-to-read-project
Media Coalition website – https://mediacoalition.org/
ABA Ends Policies – https://www.bookweb.org/about/govern/ends