Every year the American Library Association (ALA) sponsors Banned Books Week to celebrate the freedom to read. Starting today, September 24, through October 1, 2011, TSM encourages everyone to take the time to celebrate and appreciate the freedom of information and expression inherent in our national principles.
Sadly, many people wish to impose their views or values on others and restrict access to information they feel is dangerous for a variety of reasons. Some of these people are well-intentioned, but many set out to block views with which they disagree.
Typical targets for challenges are:
- Sexual content, especially materials dealing with homosexuality
- Content perceived as conflicting with religious or moral values
- Age-appropriateness of materials
- Portrayals of witchcraft or devil worship
- Materials perceived as subversive or unpatriotic
ALA compiles a list of the most-challenged books each year which it releases in April during National Library Week. The 2010 top ten includes books in most of these categories and, as usual, is heavy on materials for children and teens. Champion challenge lists have been compiled for each of the past two decades as well; the 2000 – 2009 list was led (by a wide margin) by the Harry Potter series, proving that popularity is no insulation from the clutches of ignorance.
In libraries, there is an important distinction between a book being challenged and being banned. Anyone who uses the library may question the inclusion of material in its collection. Good libraries have strong policies that describe what they collect and how they provide access to it. When a challenge is placed, the library (or its board or other leadership in some cases) can decide to reject the challenge, place restrictions on the material (such as moving a book from the children’s area to the adult area), or get rid of it altogether. A banned book is one that has been removed. Libraries report hundreds of challenges to their collections each year. Since reporting is voluntary, it is safe to assume that there are many more challenges that occur.
The books featured during Banned Books Week have been targets of attempted bannings. Fortunately, while some books were banned or restricted, in a majority of cases the books were not banned, all thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community to retain the books in the library collections. Imagine how many more books might be challenged—and possibly banned or restricted—if we did not have Banned Books Week each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.
See what all the fuss is about! Take the time to read a banned book this week. Whether you find something challenging that makes you think or experience a great read and wonder what the controversy was, you’ll be glad you did.
(As an added bonus, McGill University has compiled this list of banned books, all of which include links to lists of local libraries so you can borrow and read them!)