Update on our response to the Cumberland Council book ban   

The news last week that some members of Cumberland City Council in NSW had voted to ban books about same-sex parenting in their libraries saw freedom to read hit the headlines across the country.

ALIA has been working with members for almost 18 months to support libraries facing these challenges to library collections and programs. An unprecedented number of challenges, targeting LGBTQIA+ content in public libraries, have been reported to ALIA since early 2023, along with threats to library staff and communities.

Our statement, released on Wednesday 8 May in the midst of our National Conference, makes it clear that this latest attempt to remove books from the library on discriminatory grounds is not acceptable and must be reversed. In this stance we have been buoyed by support from so many others in the community, including the NSW Arts Minister John Graham. You can read the words of support for yourself:

If you would like to add your voice, please add your name this petition from Equality Australia. As of today there are over 50,000 signatures on the petition, a clear demonstration of how many people in the community support and believe in the freedom to read. 

While not wanting to elevate the profiles and voices of hate, it is also important that the library sector voice is loud and clear on this issue. ALIA CEO Cathie Warburton spoke to The Age and Sydney Morning Herald emphasising that bans such as these are a direct threat to democracy, and explaining how activities in the US have had a knock-on ‘copycat’ effect on Australia’s public libraries. “This sort of activity and this sort of pressure on libraries really has no place in Australian society today” Cathie said.

ALIA Deputy CEO Trish Hepworth appeared on ABC Drive with Dom Knight on Wednesday 9 May to and stressed the important expertise of library staff in making collection development  decisions (the segment begins at 6 min 25 with Trish joining the conversation at 14 min 55. Also speaking is Dr Diane Coleman – a Cumberland Councillor who voted against the ban).

Trish also appeared on ABC’s Life Matters program along with Sarah L’Estrange (producer of the ABC’s  Book Show Banned Books series) which provided an opportunity to set the Cumberland decision in wider context and highlight the work of library staff and ALIA in addressing book challenges.

ALIA has also been taking direct action to see a swift reversal of the ban. With the pro bono assistance of Dowson Turco Lawyers ALIA wrote to Cumberland Council on Friday outlining our legal concerns with the Council’s actions. We have also been working with partners on other actions, and we continue to encourage people to share the Equality Australia petition.

Unfortunately we are not expecting this to be the final challenge to the Freedom to Read in Australian libraries. We strongly urge library staff to be prepared and to report all incidents and check on other libraries in their networks. ALIA Members can access the freedom to read resources in the Member Resources section of the ALIA website.

Cumberland Council will meet this Wednesday evening 15 May, and a motion to rescind the decision is on the agenda. We will keep our Members and the wider sector updated on the outcome.