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  • Writer's pictureMarina Rose

Banned Books Week: What's the big deal?

When you hear the phrase “banned book” what do you think of? I’m willing to bet you don’t think of Captain Underpants or Skippyjon Jones. Yet both of those series ended up on the American Library Association’s list of top 11 challenged books in 2018. Yes, I know the books were not technically “banned,” but someone in the U.S. took offense to them and, in an effort to protect themselves and/or their children, filed a formal complaint with the owning library.

“Okay, Marina, why does this matter to me?” Excellent question! While this may not seem like a big deal, it could very easily become one. In 2018 alone, the American Library Association tracked 347 challenges that requested 483 books be removed from shelves – and that’s just the reported challenges! If these books were taken off the library shelves, they would be unavailable for people in the community to access. Of course, you could probably find the book in your local bookstore or on Amazon, but let’s not forget that not everyone can afford to buy every book they want to read. I know I sure can’t! As someone who reads 50+ books every year, I greatly appreciate being able to use books for free from my library, and I believe everyone should have equal access to those materials.

Censorship by the numbers - where challenges take place: 59% public libraries, 23% school libraries, 14% schools, 3% academic libraries, 1% special/prison libraries. Provided by the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom

“But what if it’s a terrible book – one that no one should read ever!” Well, I can see where you’re coming from, but who gets to decide what is terrible and what is acceptable? In the United States, we are promised certain freedoms, including access to information. That’s why librarians, authors, publishers, and others have been celebrating Banned Books Week at the end of September since the 1980s.

“Okay, Marina, I guess I can see where you’re coming from.” Great! We don’t have to agree about the appropriateness of a particular book, but I hope we can agree that each of us should be able to decide what is appropriate for ourselves.

So, what books made the top 11 most challenged last year? (It’s usually the top 10, but two books tied for the #10 spot.) Here’s the list and the reasons the books were challenged or removed:

“Wait, did I just read that two of those books were BURNED? In 2018?” Yep, that’s what you read. There was a book-burning incident in Orange City, Iowa last October – you can read more about it here, and the outcome of the man’s hearing here. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

Banned Books Week is an opportunity to raise awareness about book challenges and to celebrate our freedom to read and view a wide variety of material. Librarians stand in opposition to attempts to censor materials, but we also understand our users concerns. If you do have concerns about a book at the library, you can ask your librarian for a “Request for Reconsideration” form and we’ll review your request.

For more information about Banned Books Week, check out the American Library Association’s website.

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