As librarians, we occasionally do a poor job at explaining what banned books actually are.  We make interesting displays using yellow caution tape, or place books in mock prison, or cover the books in mock flame like one of the latest displays at O’Fallon, but we fail to appropriately communicate the intention.

Some librarians have literally overheard patrons say to one another, “Oh no, you can’t check that out…it’s banned.”  

The point of libraries highlighting banned books is simple.  It is to celebrate the freedom to read whatever you want, and to caution against the dangers of censorship.

Banned Books Display at O’Fallon Public Library

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).

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 chose, 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 Gender Queer: a Memoir by Maia Kobabe, Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison, and All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson.  

So, if you see a Banned Book Display somewhere, please don’t be confused.  You can absolutely 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!

To learn more about banned books, check out the American Library Association’s Banned and Challenged Books page.

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