Banned Books Week

Today marked the first day of Banned Books Week, a national celebration of the freedom to read. Every year, books are challenged by individuals or groups in an attempt to secure a ban on the material. According to the ALA (American Library Association), a challenge is "an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group"; a banning is "the removal of those materials." It is important to understand that challenges are not just expressions of different points of view. They are courses of action taken against teaching the reading material, and a conscious effort to remove the material from libraries and schools. It is my personal belief that this is a direct encroachment on our freedom of speech as Americans, and on our choice as readers.

Banned Books Week, held every year during the last week of September, is dedicated to raising awareness about the benefits of free access, as well as the harms of censorship. The efforts of teachers, librarians, booksellers, and communities have all come together each year to help prevent bannings, no matter what the material. The cornerstone of BBW is the freedom to express and allow access to ideas (especially ideas in print), no matter how "unorthodox" or "unpopular" those ideas are.

From ALA's web site:

Over the past eight years, American libraries were faced with 3,736 challenges.

  • 1,225 challenges due to “sexually explicit” material;
  • 1,008 challenges due to “offensive language”;
  • 720 challenges due to material deemed “unsuited to age group”;
  • 458 challenges due to “violence”
  • 269 challenges due to “homosexuality”; and

Further, 103 materials were challenged because they were “anti-family,” and an additional 233 were challenged because of their “religious viewpoints.”

1,176 of these challenges (approximately 31%) were in classrooms; 37% were in school libraries; 24% (or 909) took place in public libraries. There were less than 75 challenges to college classes; and only 36 to academic libraries. There are isolated cases of challenges to materials made available in or by prisons, special libraries, community groups, and student groups. The majority of challenges were initiated by parents (almost exactly 51%), while patrons and administrators followed behind (10% and 8% respectively).

I just can't fathom any reason why anyone would go to such lengths to keep books away from the public. The public. People they don't know. My mom wouldn't let me read books with boys and girls on the cover when I was a kid (this amounted to at least half of The Babysitters Club series), but she never told other people's children what was or wasn't good for them. She never once, in front of us, told our teachers how to do their jobs (granted, I guess we were enrolled in Catholic school for the majority of our lives -- essentially, an extenion of our home belief system). Still, she knew she couldn't control every aspect of our lives. I think she definitely wanted to know, and had a right to know, what we were being taught in school, but she knew it wasn't ultimately up to her to decide what information came to us and what was rejected. Instead, it was her role to teach us how to deal with our own perception of that information, and to help us understand our choices. This is not to say she didn't try her darnedest to instill her own values in us. She fought us pretty hard on a lot of things. But she was always so proud of me for loving books, and loving to read, loving to learn, loving to weigh different ideas. She was confident enough in her parenting that she trusted me to make the right decision about my beliefs. She had to be. And she loved books. She wanted my brother and me to become our own person, and she knew that what we read wasn't going to be the one deciding factor in how we turned out.

In fact, I think I turned out pretty good. And I read all the smut I can get my hands on. Like Harry Potter. Loved me some Harry Potter. Or The Golden Compass. Because I always look to the fantasy genre as a solid substitute for church. Or Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Because I learn some good words in books, and once I learn a word, there's no stopping my mouth from repeating it. Or Captain Underpants. ...Really? Captain Underpants??? COME ON.

For more information on Banned Books Week, including events, please visit, or contact the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom at 1-800-545-2433, ext. 4220, or

(Upon reviewing the most recent lists, I've decided I absolutely HAVE TO HAVE this challenged book. Same-sex guinea pigs? It's like a dream come true! Read the Douglas County, Colorado library director's response here.)

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