Have you heard about Banned Books Week? Started originally in 1982, the week seems to grow in popularity (and in viral advertising) each year! Here’s a quick summary, from the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom:
Banned Books Week 2018 is September 23-29. It brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular. The books featured during Banned Books Week have all been targeted with removal or restricted in libraries and schools. By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship. (Read more here.)
Banned Books Week is all about making sure that voices are heard, and that stories are available for readers of all ages that need them. We are incredibly lucky in the United States of America to have the first amendment to the Constitution protecting our right to freedom of speech, even when discussing topics that are difficult or unpopular. This amendment is particularly important (and controversial) in libraries, where readers have the right to choose, both independently and with their families, which books they feel ready and excited to read. To challenge a book means to “attempt to remove or restrict materials, based on objections from a person/group.” To ban a book means “removal of materials based on content.” Challenging or banning a book means going beyond deciding that that book is not right for you or for your family, and attempting to have it removed completely so that no other readers can access it.
Books are challenged or banned for a variety of reasons, and each school or library has their own specific protocol for dealing with concerns. In library school, I was trained extensively on how to prepare for and respond to book challenges. Entering the field of librarianship as a wide-eyed beginner, I initially thought that challenges would only take place in public libraries, where the majority of circulation includes adult fiction and blockbuster, big name titles. I thought that working in the children’s literature world would mean easy decisions – “This title is appropriate for children” and “This title is not”. After all, it’s easy to see when a book is okay for a kid, right? Wrong. Now with nearly a decade of experience under my belt, I know that when it comes to serving, educating, and protecting young patrons, the line between appropriate and not appropriate is often blurred, messy, or complicated. Although librarians do thorough research and curate collections with the best interests of their patrons at heart, 25% of challenges take place in school libraries (source) and that more than 40% of school librarians have faced a book challenge (source). Check out the infographic above, from the American Library Association, which gives interesting statistics regarding book challenges and censorship. (Take a closer look via the link in the resource list below.)
It’s important to note that the purpose of Banned Books Week is to start a conversation about censorship and freedom to read. The purpose is not to make light of parent concerns regarding reading material, or to present students with books for the sake of being deemed controversial. We celebrate Banned Books Week in the context of guided conversations about civics and history, and censorship of literature is just one piece of the nuanced and carefully constructed conversation. Each reader has the right to decide with their family about the books and content that are a good fit, and to choose to read or not read titles available to them. Librarians and teachers have the utmost respect for readers and their families, and understand the gravity that goes into making decisions regarding literature.
Want to know more about Banned Books Week and book censorship in general? Here are some resources to help:
- BannedBooksWeek.org is a great place to start. This page has an overview, materials and promotional tools, and tons of resources for discussion and events.
- The American Library Association gives a basic description and, even more interestingly, a history of the celebration, in their Advocacy pages.
- If you’re an infographic fan like me, click here take a closer look at that infographic I shared above from the American Library Association. And scroll down to check out their archive of infographics – they share an awesome new one each year!
- The American Library Association’s Office for Intellecual Freedom compiles list each year of the most commonly banned books, including information about why they were challenged or banned. These lists go all the way back to 2004. Master lists of the most commonly banned books in childrens, young adult, classic, and diverse literature are also included – and fascinating!
- This YouTube video by BannedBooksWeek.org outlines the most challenged books of 2017, and why each title was challenged or banned.
- This interactive timeline from the American Library Association gives a much deeper look into book censorship year by year, from 1982- present day.
- In 2017, School Library Journal released a list of New Resources for Banned Books Week, including statistics, articles, and current events (now, of course, more than a year old).
- American Libraries Magazine put together an interesting collection of statistics in their article, By the Numbers: Banned Books Week. The 2015 article is a bit dated now, but it’s still fascinating.
- Many school librarians go “all-out” for Banned Books Week. A quick Google search will show you some of the amazing and thought-proking displays featured in school libraries across the country. My display skills aren’t quite that feirce – but they sure are inspiring, aren’t they?
- More of a Pinterest person? Check out this Banned Books Week board, curated by the team at School Library Journal.
Come check out the Banned Books Week display in the 7th and 8th grade section of the Learning Village Library, featuring some of the most commonly challenged and/or banned childrens’ books of all time, and the reasons cited for their requested removal. What I love about Banned Books Week is the fascinating and diverse conversations that it inspires in our reading community.
If you’re interested, here are some discussion questions about book censorship and banned books to share with your friends, family, or community of readers, from Education World:
- What are some of your favorite books? Are any of them on the banned list?
- Which banned books would you most like to read, and why?
- Have you ever been offended by a book? Why? Do you think others would agree with you?
- What are some reasons a school board might choose to remove certain books from schools?
- Under what circumstances (if any) should a book be removed from a school? A library?
- What is the difference between banning a book and restricting access to a book (e.g., requiring parental permission)?
- Does book banning constitute censorship? If yes, in all cases, or only in some?
- Does a member of the public have a right to decide whether others should be allowed access to a book? If so, under what circumstances would he or she have the right to decide?
- What, if anything, can be learned from reading a book that has content which some people find offensive? Can the book be viewed as a history lesson in terms of the values of a given time period? An example of poor choices that lead to poor outcomes? A lesson in flawed human beings overcoming challenges and adversity in life?
- How does the historical context of a book affect the public’s reaction to it? Would a book considered objectionable in the 1960s or another decade be viewed more favorably today?
- Are books that have been banned in the past considered more acceptable today? Why?
- How has book banning changed over the years? How does it look different now, compared to ancient times? Seventy years ago (the 1930s)? Forty years ago (the 1960s)? Ten years ago?