What would you do if you went to the library to check out a book, only to find it wasn’t there? Not because it was already checked out, but because someone else disapproved of its content and had it removed from library shelves? Banned Books Week, Sept. 22 – 28, stresses the importance of preventing censorship and ensuring everyone’s freedom to read any book, no matter how unorthodox or unpopular.
Despite the perception that censorship no longer occurs in the United States, attempts to ban books frequently take place in our schools and libraries. According to the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF), there were 464 reported attempts to remove or restrict materials from schools and libraries in 2012 and more than 17,700 attempts since 1990, when the ALA began to record book challenges.
Just recently Alabama State Senator Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison) called for a ban on the novel “The Bluest Eye,” stating that the book should be removed from libraries and the 11th Grade Common Core reading list because he believes the book is “highly objectionable” and has “no value or purpose.” “The Bluest Eye” is Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison’s first novel and is often included in honors and Advanced Placement English classes. Holtzclaw’s demand is just one example of the kinds of book challenges that, if successful, deny students and their parents the right and the freedom to choose books and literature that contain diverse ideas drawn from across the social and political spectrum.
“The ability to read, speak, think and express ourselves freely is a fundamental freedom that sustains and upholds our democratic society,” said ALA President Barbara Stripling. “Banned Books Week serves as an opportunity to remind all of us that the freedom to choose books for ourselves and our family is a right, not a privilege.”
Book challenges to school library materials are not the only threat to students’ freedom of inquiry. Online resources, including legitimate educational websites and academically useful social networking tools, are being blocked and filtered in school libraries. In an effort to raise awareness, the American Association of School Libraries (AASL), a division of the ALA, has designated one day during Banned Books Week as Banned Websites Awareness Day – Wednesday, Sept. 25 – and is asking school librarians and other educators to promote an awareness of how excessive filtering affects student achievement.
Banned Books Week 2013 has been celebrating the freedom to read for more than 30 years. Libraries and bookstores will observe Banned Books Week by hosting special events and exhibits on the power of literature and the harms of censorship. ALA, along with Banned Books Week co-sponsors, will host one of those events, a Virtual Read Out on YouTube [http://tinyurl.com/bbwvro13] where participants will read from their favorite banned books. Past participants have included highly acclaimed and/or frequently challenged authors such as Judy Blume, Chris Crutcher, Whoopi Goldberg, Lauren Myracle and many others.
For the first time this year, Twitter parties will help promote the message of Banned Books Week. A party will be held from 10 a.m. to noon Eastern time on Monday, Sept. 23, with a second party scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 25, from noon to 2 p.m. Eastern time. Supporters are urged to tweet using the hashtag #bannedbooksweek. More information about the Twitter parties is available on the Banned Books Week website, http://bannedbooksweek.org/.
Also, many bookstores, schools and libraries celebrating Banned Books Week will showcase selections from the ALA OIF’s Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2012. The list is released each spring and provides a snapshot of book removal attempts in the U.S. The Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2012 reflects a range of themes and consists of the following titles:
1) Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey.
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group
2) “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” by Sherman Alexie.
Reasons: Offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
3) “Thirteen Reasons Why,” by Jay Asher.
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group
4) “Fifty Shades of Grey,” by E. L. James.
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
5) “And Tango Makes Three,” by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson.
Reasons: Homosexuality, unsuited for age group
6) “The Kite Runner,” by Khaled Hosseini.
Reasons: Homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
7) “Looking for Alaska,” by John Green.
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
8) Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
Reasons: Unsuited for age group, violence
9) “The Glass Castle,” by Jeanette Walls
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
10) “Beloved,” by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence
Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Booksellers Association; American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression; the American Library Association; American Society of Journalists and Authors; Association of American Publishers; and the National Association of College Stores. It is endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. In 2011, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the Freedom to Read Foundation, National Coalition Against Censorship, National Council of Teachers of English, and PEN American Center also signed on as sponsors.
ALA’s work opposing censorship takes place not just during Banned Books Week, but throughout the year. OIF tracks hundreds of challenges to books and other materials in libraries and classrooms across the country. OIF provides support to librarians, teachers and community members looking to keep books on the shelves. Those wishing to support Banned Books Week and libraries can do so by texting ALABBW to 41518 to provide a $10 tax-deductible donation.
For more information on Banned Books Week, book challenges and censorship, please visit the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom’s Banned Books Web site at www.ala.org/bbooks, or www.bannedbooksweek.org.