If you find yourself passing by the bookshelf next to our cafe area here at O’Fallon Library, you’ll find our newest display that marks the celebration of Banned Books Month. While I worked to put up the display, a lot of patrons asked me, “What is a banned book?”
Here you can discover what banned books are, why they have been banned, and why we think they are integral to our library and the world.
What is a Banned Book?
Banned books are materials that individuals, groups, or governing bodies have taken away from public access, whether that be a school, a library, or another entity. In our country today, few books are even banned, especially since the 1982 court case, The Island Trees School vs. Pico, in which the Supreme Court ruled that school officials do not have the power to ban library books because they deem their content to be unsuitable. After this, the American Bookseller’s Association created an exhibit at BookExpo America that held more than 500 books stacked up in a large metal cage with warnings that some people deemed them dangerous. After that bookstores and libraries started putting up their own book displays to showcase the books declared obscene or inappropriate, even including books people have challenged them to censor.
What is a Challenged Book?
Today, while as many books are banned as they used to be, many are still challenged. Perhaps parents do not want their kids reading particular books at the library, school, or classroom because they decide it goes against their beliefs. Perhaps someone finds a particular library book offensive, such as To Kill a Mockingbird or The Handmaid’s Tale, and they may ask individually or form a group to attempt to remove it. According to the American Library Association (ALA), 56% of challenges take place in public libraries, meaning libraries like ours are on the front line fighting censorship. As a public library, O’Fallon Library strives to combat censorship so that you are free to choose.
What is Censorship?
According to the ALA, “Censorship is the suppression of ideas and information that certain persons-individuals, groups, or government officials-find objectionable or dangerous. Censors pressure public institutions… and remove information from public access, so that no one else has the chance to read or view the material and make up their own minds about it.”
Maybe someone doesn’t agree with the material, maybe the book is not even something they’re interested in, or perhaps they think their children are too young for the material. That is okay, and they are absolutely allowed to choose what they read and what their kids read. The problem comes in when materials are threatened to be removed from everyone else. If someone does not want their child to read certain books or genres, it is their prerogative to teach them why and not a public entity’s requirement to restrict those items.
Why Banned Books Matter
Without banned books, library shelves would be barren. Countless stories and histories would not be told. Many classics we know today were once banned or challenged, especially those that are socially significant such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, To Kill a Mockingbird, or I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Many books are banned because they reveal a part of history some would like to omit, some are because people just don’t like them or agree with them. Again, this does not give them the right to take away another person’s right to freedom of information.
Banned books matter because they often give insight into the lives of those who are disenfranchized, such as cultural and religious minorities, women, the LGBTQ+ community. On this topic, Ray Bradbury has said, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” When these stories are silenced, the people who those stories personally resonate with them become isolated without information about their cultures or characters they can relate to. Then the lack of coverage of their lives and the challenges they face leads to a lack of sympathy by the majority because when people are not represented, it is easier to further marginalize them.
Without access to information, the general population is kept in the dark for often the most bizarre reasons. During the 90’s and into the early 2000’s, even Harry Potter was a banned book on the grounds of magic and witchcraft. Can you imagine the world without Harry Potter? Or imagine if you never heard about the Civil Rights Movement, the Holocaust, the Stonewall Riots. Censors know that knowledge is power.
Choosing to broadcast banned books celebrates our access to information, our freedom from censorship, and our right to read what we choose. This is why reading banned books is important and why O’Fallon Library upholds your right to intellectual freedom.
What Can You Do?
- Read banned books. If you have kids, they too can read banned books. There are many children’s stories just for them.
- Visit our Banned Books display at the library to learn more about censorship.
- Read about censorship here and around the world.
- Report censorship online or by calling 1-800-545-2433, ext. 4226.
O’Fallon Library wishes you a wonderful Banned Books Month as you read whatever book you choose because it’s your choice and your right to read!
“American Library Association.” Advocacy, Legislation & Issues, http://www.ala.org/.