The TIE Podcast Spring Semester Preview: A Conversation with Deborah Caldwell-Stone

Three individuals read banned books, the focus of TIE's Spring Semester podcast

We are excited to present TIE‘s first Spring Semester podcast, featuring an enlightening interview with Deborah Caldwell-Stone, Director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom and Executive Director of the Freedom to Read Foundation, a nonprofit legal and educational organization founded in 1969 to protect and defend First Amendment rights.

Listen to the full conversation below:

TIE Podcast · A Conversation with Deborah Caldwell-Stone
Deborah Caldwell-Stone

In the episode, Deborah sits down with TIE editor in chief Alexia Hudson-Ward to discuss the shocking increase in book banning and challenges across the United States in recent years. In addition to her roles outlined above, Deborah also serves as the secretariat for the LeRoy C. Merritt Humanitarian Fund, which supports library workers who are denied employment rights or discriminated against, placing her at the forefront of these challenges.

Through the course of the conversation, Deborah draws attention to highly coordinated efforts by groups attempting to impose their agenda on American schools and libraries by demanding the removal books from collections and syllabi that reflect the lived experiences of marginalized communities. These groups have launched several ongoing challenges to books about LGBTQIA individuals and, with backing from some politicians, have advanced more targeted attacks against Black authors who write about Black lived experiences, which they falsely believe perpetuate critical race theory.

Yet, people are fighting back against these patently false assertions and urging others to join anti-censorship efforts. The Office for Intellectual Freedom and the Freedom to Read Foundation are partnering with or encouraging involvement with organizations such as PEN America, the National Coalition Against Censorship, the ACLU, and Red Wine and Blue, a national organization of mothers who are pushing back against book bans and amplifying the need for diversity-centered education.

While the uptick in efforts to ban or challenge books is daunting, Deborah maintains hope for positive outcomes, seeing a growing youth movement that demands the freedom to read.

We hope you enjoy this insightful conversation with Deborah Caldwell-Stone.

Here’s a quick peek inside the episode:

On the current landscape of book banning:

If we go all the way back to the beginning of the pandemic … most challenges to books and schools and libraries dealt with LGBTQIA issues … We saw a shift immediately after the murder of George Floyd. With the rising awareness of racism, we saw challenges to books dealing with police violence toward Black persons and dealing with racism. Starting in the Spring of 2021, we started to observe activities by organized groups that were going to school [and public library] board meetings … complaining about the content of books that dealt with gender and sexual identity, but also books that they believed related to what’s been called “critical race theory,” [which has] actually amounted to an attack on books dealing with racism and the experience of Black persons in the United States, and that’s really become a tsunami of challenges … We’ve gotten a volume of challenges we’ve never seen in the time that I’ve worked here at ALA, and that’s two decades.

On what due process should look like to ensure transparency:

Anyone can challenge a book and we argue that they have the right to do that … but we do say as well that there has to be due process, that there needs to be a procedure that ensures transparency … that makes sure that the work isn’t removed in an unconstitutional fashion, or simply because somebody doesn’t like the ideas in the book … Complaint[s] should go to a review committee that … measure[s] the materials against a written collection development policy that outlines the criteria for building the collection, and make[s] a determination if the work was acquired according to policy … Everyone in the community [should have] an opportunity to weigh in, so that it’s just not a single voice or a few voices making decisions for the entire community.

On the authoritarian impulse underlying the current push for censorship:

The theme I perceive in all of this is upholding a very narrow status quo that may never have existed in the first place in the face of a society that’s increasingly multicultural and diverse, and of course our libraries and our classrooms should reflect that diversity and be culturally competent, but we’re seeing real resistance to that in these challenges … A number of advocate groups have created a real moral panic based on almost nothing at all and as a result we’re seeing individuals go to school boards demanding the removal of [certain] books and we’re even seeing elected officials jump on the bandwagon.

Be sure to sign up for alerts on the latest Toward Inclusive Excellence (TIE) content, whether it’s a new blog post, podcast episode, or webinar.

Interested in contributing to TIE? Send an email to Deb V. at Choice with your topic idea.

We gratefully acknowledge underwriting support from GALE

Meeting the needs of diverse learners has always been a priority for Gale. Gale continually strives to improve the teaching and learning of social justice issues, offer diverse perspectives and backgrounds, and be a leader committed to transparency.

Gale’s publishing strategy is focused on providing historical and current perspectives that deepen collective understanding of social justice issues. Gale Primary Sources collections serve as living artifacts of history, case studies help students evaluate social issues through an intersectional lens, and literature collections guide students toward greater understanding of cultures and forms of oppression. Learn more at

Header image is a detail of This is Harlem by Jacob Lawrence. Courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. © 2021 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. For more information, click here.