This week libraries all over the country will be celebrating Banned Books Week, an event designed to bring national attention to the harms of censorship while highlighting the value of free and open access to information.
It’s easy to take a seemingly benign activity like reading for granted. As Americans with a wide variety of opinions and beliefs, we are used to having access to books and other reading materials that offer just as many opinions and views. However, this is the not the case for millions of people around the world where information is often censored or restricted by a government or regime.
Yet the basic right to read – explore ideas and express ourselves freely – are often at risk even in this country. According to The American Library Association, each year hundreds of books are either removed or challenged in schools and libraries across the nation. So the threat of censorship, or of the suppression of thoughts and differences of opinion, is not just a foreign affair, but something Americans need to be concerned about as well.
You might be surprised to learn that many of the books that have been banned over the years are considered classics. The list includes: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Color Purple by Alice Walker and Ulysses by James Joyce. (View the complete list here). While clearly not every book is intended for every reader, it’s hard to imagine being denied the right to read any of these books because someone has deemed their content inappropriate.
While Banned Books Weeks traditionally focuses on public and school libraries, colleges and universities are not immune from efforts aimed at censoring materials. In South Carolina, two public colleges recently were the target of funding cuts from the SC Legislature based on books assigned as summer reading for incoming freshmen. The gay-themed books: the graphic novel Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel, and Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio, a collection of stories first broadcast on a state radio program, were the subject of much controversy; while the funding to the two schools was ultimately restored, it was done so with the proviso that the schools use the reading program money to teach the U.S. Constitution and other key historical documents. Read more about this controversy here.
There are a number of ways that you can help commemorate Banned Books Week. On Sept. 24, SAGE and American Library Association’s Office of intellectual Freedom will present a free webinar discussing efforts to un-ban books by visiting activists and speakers in London, Charleston, S.C., Houston and California. ALA also invites anyone who is interested, to read from their favorite banned books by participating in the popular Banned Books Week Virtual Read-Out on YouTube.
The views expressed in this post are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government. No endorsement or recommendation of any specific products or services is intended or implied.
Contents contributed by reference librarians Karen Shea and Laura Mosher