Each year, during the last full week of September, the American Library Association (ALA) along with libraries across America, celebrate Banned Books Week. Despite the name sounding as if libraries are actively banning items, the opposite is the focus. The United States of America offers its citizens a lot of freedoms, a major one being that Americans are allowed to express themselves in the form of reading what they want, hearing what they want, and watching what they want. As a free individual, you have the right to choose for yourself what you wish to take in. With that, others have the right to take in things you may not wish to.
But what if you were denied that right? For example, pretend you want to read a new bestseller. You go to your local library to grab a copy, only to discover your library no longer has the book because someone was offended by it and asked that it be removed. Now, because of censorship, no one has access to the item.
The ALA promotes Banned Books Week to draw attention to the unfairness that is censorship. Each year, nationwide, libraries and other institutions combat challenges in regards to the materials and services they offer. A “challenge” is the attempt to remove or restrict materials or services, based on content. A “ban” is the actual removal of materials or services, based on content. Challenges happen for many reasons; explicit and/or sexual content, political and/or religious viewpoints, violence, racism, gender equality, pro-this, anti-that…the list of attempted reasons goes on and on. 8 of the 10 Top Challenged Books of 2019 were due to LGBTQIA+ content alone. A majority of challenges occur at public libraries: a whopping 66% of challenges in 2019 came from public libraries. Schools and school libraries also deal with a large amount of challenges – 19% – all for the same reasons just listed.
According to 2019 data from the ALA, 56% of all challenges are toward books, with another 8% directed toward films. That is a total of 64% directed at just physical materials! Programs/meetings have also been met with a growing number of challenges, resulting in 22% being in regards to said things.
Who is initiating these challenges? 63% of all challenges come from library patrons, with another 12% from political and/or religious groups. The attempted censorship of material combined to affect 607 different items including books, films, and newspapers in 2019, a 14% increase from the previous year. Growing numbers such as those help stress the importance of why attention to the issue is addressed by celebratory weeks such as Banned Books Week. Without access to information and material – even limited access – we are all held back.
PPL uses the entire month of September to draw attention to the issue of censorship, employing either the large display window in the south lobby, or a book display inside the library itself –and sometimes both! People are usually surprised to see classics and bestsellers that are part of the “banned” displays – e.g. “Harry Potter” by J.K. Rowling, “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee and even The Holy Bible, just to name a few.
Censorship limits personal exploration and creates barriers in regards to the access of information. The path toward the freedom to read begins at your library.
See you at the library!