See You At The Library, Brave Books’s Storytime, Back in 2024

Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She’s the editor/author of (DON’T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

Last year, far-right Christian publisher Brave Books, alongside Kirk Cameron, one of its authors, launched See You At The Library. The event called on supporters to begin planning for these public events at public libraries nationwide in order to “pray, sing, and read BRAVE Books and other books of virtue.” Held August 5 last year, the publisher promised afterward that because of how successful it was, they would continue to host them annually.

The time has come and once again, Brave Books and Kirk Cameron are encouraging their followers to coordinate See You At The Library events for Saturday, August 24, 2024.

See You At The Library aims to stoke the moral panic around public institutions like libraries no longer honoring “viewpoints that are foundational, time-honored, and true” in favor of “the more radical.” After the American Library Association responded to these events last year, the publisher and its author are more determined than ever to “prove” their freedom of speech is being squashed when these events are denied at public libraries. The problem is that these are not only blatantly political events–something many libraries outline in their policies are not allowed in public meeting rooms–these events aren’t about freedom, liberty, or religious beliefs.

They’re about selling Brave Books.

screen shot from see you at the library event on brave books website.

The Brave Books website for See You at the Library asks hosts to purchase a $180 kit filled with the publisher’s own books for the event. Those who may not be able to host the event themselves or, as the site implies, are denied the right to do so, may drop the $180 for the kit and donate them to others who are hosting the event.

This isn’t about liberty. This is about selling $180 worth of books under the guise of taking back the library.

Over the years, meeting room policies have become hot topics in the world of libraries. Can anyone reserve one? Can limits be placed on the kinds of people who have the right to use them? What sorts of uses are protected and which aren’t? These questions all have merit and value, especially when it comes to considering how taxpayer money is being used. A for-profit business setting up an event in the public library meeting room may be in direct conflict with the values of the public library. Libraries articulate that the use of meeting room spaces does not imply library approval or sponsorship; groups cannot in their marketing or advertising note that it is a program being held by the library nor coordinated by it.

For the release of Cameron’s first title with Brave Books, the publisher and publisher’s marketing company Amplifi Agency attempted to rent rooms at several public libraries. They claim over 50 public libraries denied their offer to host story times. But this wasn’t true. Scarsdale Library in New York explained what happened: Cameron, Brave Books, and Amplifi thought they were above the policy and ignored the formal process for using a room.

Cameron then claimed victory when he successfully rented rooms at other public libraries. Among them were the Sumner Public Library in Tennessee, where the director was fired for “unkind pushback,” and the Indianapolis Public Library, where he was initially denied. Cameron claimed the denial happened because of his race and the messages in his book; the truth is, of course, far more complicated and related to policies that he and his team chose to ignore.

What gets tricky and is worth emphasizing here is when the Freedom of Speech butts heads against Freedom of Religion and more, where both intersect with the Separation of Church and State. This is why libraries emphasize that groups are responsible for their events and why it is they cannot suggest the library is hosting, sponsoring, or in any way connected to it.

This year’s August 24 events being mass-coordinated by anyone who wishes to set up a story time at their local public library are once again a ripe opportunity for all of these elements to clash and for right-wing “activists” to proclaim they’re being discriminated against by a taxpayer institution. Brave Books has developed a resource kit for anyone wishing to put together one of these story times, and they have set up a map for people to drop pins for confirmed events. Doing this inevitably connects the public libraries with Brave Books, and given how few people know the actual intricacies behind library policy — and indeed, with people of this particular persuasion not wanting to care about them — the flames are about to grow hotter.

So far, almost a dozen libraries will be where Brave Books hosts their See You at the Library events in 2024. Among them are a branch of the El Paso Public Library (TX), Douglas County Libraries (CO), Huntsville-Madison County Public Library (AL), and a branch of the Dakota County Library (MN).

Libraries would be best served by seeing what their meeting room policies are right now. If your facilities will allow Brave Books events, ensure that all of the rules and guidelines are followed. Meet with your legal representation on what requirements you can and cannot make of those requesting rooms (specifically around security — someone like Cameron, via his profile, is a public safety concern but also, knowing that increased law enforcement at the public library is antithetical to the tenants of librarianship and is an impediment for the use of the facility by marginalized individuals, what do you do?). Likewise, ensure every staff member working on August 24 is aware of what’s happening–it is not out of question that those eager to vilify library workers as “groomers” or “indoctrinators” may choose to peruse the facility outside of the event. Taking photos inside the library, including of staff, wouldn’t be out of the question.

Over the next few weeks, take the time to talk with staff about responding to inquires about hosting events such as these and make sure everyone is on the same page. Prepare public statements to address questions and concerns which may arise. Make sure all levels of library worker knows what’s at stake right now. These are coordinated efforts to prove a point; in the sake of Cameron and Brave Books, it’s to find a “gotcha” with censorship. If you don’t give them what they want, they can cry censorship, even if they themselves are the perpetrators who purposefully subvert the rules and policies.

Libraries cannot rest on their laurels of public perception. They need to ensure they’re building robust and inclusive policies and procedures that protect the interests of every patron and staff member.

As we’ve seen throughout the country, truth does not matter to those bent on their messaging and their right-wing values of authoritarianism. But your institution can continue to be a bastion of light by upholding your standards and policies, advocating for First Amendment Rights of all — not just those with the most money and political sway — and you can continue to educate your patrons about why some books get purchased and included in the collection while others, like those published by Brave Books, do not.

Brave Books’s slate of titles aim to express a right-wing ideology, and each is written by a star within conservative circles. Among the titles are Little Lives Matter, Elephants Are Not Birds, and Unmuzzle Me, Please. Cameron has published two books with the company, and each has come with a “book tour” of story times in public libraries.

Brave Books is also tied to SkyTree Book Fairs, a right-wing “alternative” to Scholastic Book Fairs. Scholastic Book Fairs have been a target of these groups much like library books have been for several years.

It is early June, and already, several public libraries have had bomb threats called in over drag-themed events and mass bigotry perpetrated under CatholicVote’s Hide the Pride campaign has decimated several queer book displays nationwide. Events like See You at the Library only add fuel to the manufactured panic with very real consequences.

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