As librarians, we often do a poor job at explaining what Banned Books Week actually is. We make cute displays using yellow caution tape, or place books in mock prison, but we fail to appropriately communicate the intention. I have literally overheard patrons say to one another, “Oh no, you can’t check that out…it’s banned.”
The point of Banned Books Week is simple. It is to celebrate the freedom to read, and to caution against the dangers of censorship. The books you often see on display are those that have been banned or challenged in the past (a challenge is basically a formal effort to get a book banned). According to the Banned Books Week website, more than 11,000 books have been challenged since 1982.
Why are books challenged? Typically someone disagrees with its content or message. Common reasons for challenges include sexual themes, explicit language, graphic violence, and drug use. While such content may be objectionable to some individuals, it remains important to protect everyone’s freedom to decide, and freedom to read. Censorship can become a slippery slope, especially as social norms and standards evolve over time. After all, many titles we consider classics today were once banned, including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, and To Kill a Mockingbird. Today, frequently challenged books include The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and A Stolen Life.
So this week, if you see a Banned Book Display somewhere, please don’t be confused. You can totally check those books out. You can read that classic novel you never got to in high school, or read something more recent just to see what all the fuss is about. The point is, you have the freedom to read. Exercise that freedom, and be glad for it.
To learn more about banned books, check out the American Library Association’s Banned and Challenged Books page. You can also browse this awesome graphic to gain some more insights. Courtesy of Bookpal.