What is Banned Books Week?
Established in the 1980s, Banned Books Week (September 26 – October 2, 2021) is an annual affair that celebrates the freedom to read and typically spotlights current and historical attempts to censor books in libraries and schools. During Banned Books Week, librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers all come together in joint support of the freedom to seek and express ideas, regardless of a title’s content (ALA 2021). The books that are featured during Banned Books Week have all been the subject of possible removal or restriction in libraries and schools across the United States. Commonalities that center around banned titles are oftentimes motivated by the intentions of protecting children from “inappropriate” sexual content or “offensive” language. The Office of Intellectual Freedom reported that the top three reasonings cited for challenging textual materials were:
- The material was considered to be “Sexually explicit”
- The material contained “offensive language”
- The material was “unsuited to any age group”
ALA expresses that censorship by librarians of constitutionally protected speech, whether for protection or for any other reason, violates the First Amendment and is therefore unconstitutional (ALA 2021). Additionally, Free Access to Libraries for Minors, a direct facet of the Library Bill of Rights, states that: “Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that parents s to information) states that, “Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that parents—and only parents—have the right and the responsibility to restrict the access of their children—and only their children—to library resources.”
Banned Books Week is Born
Created during a time of civil unrest, challenges, and organized protests, banned books were initially showcased at the 1982 American Booksellers Association (otherwise known as ABA) BookExpo America trade show in Anaheim, California. An over-sized padlock metal cage stood by the entrance to the convention center. Inside? Over 500 challenged books that certain individuals deemed dangerous (ALA 2021). The exhibit made a massive impact, and, as a result, ABA invited the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) Director, Judith Krug, to participate in a new initiative called Banned Books Week. Between ALA, OIF, and the National Association of College Stores, they cumulatively sparked an initiative centering around the discussion of banned books with over 50,000 members (ALA 2021).
The initiative gained incredible amounts of traction; institutions and stores hosted read-outs, and window displays turned into literary graveyards and cryptic collections of brown-bagged books. Popular news platforms such as PBS and the New York Times gabe these tactics plenty of coverage, while mayors and governors nationwide issued decrees to solidify the week.
Banned Books and Present Day
Presently, Banned Books Week is heavily covered by mainstream media and reaches nearly 2.8 billion readers and over 90,000 publishing industry and library subscribers (ALA 2021). The theme for 2021’s Banned Books Week is “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.” Sharing stories is quintessential to connecting with those around us, and books are an essential facet of self expression and importance. Books, as ALA mentions, “reach across boundaries and build connections between readers. Censorship, on the other hand, creates barriers.”
Books across the United States continue to be banned and challenged, even in 2021. But, despite the attempted removal and/or restriction of certain texts, Banned Book Week celebrates that (the majority of the time), these books are still accessible to the public with the help of librarians, teachers, students, and community members who avidly support the freedom to read.
Curious to learn more about banned books? ALA has provided a list of the top ten most challenged titles in 2020 as well as frequently challenged books based on the following categories: children’s books, young adult books, classics, books with diverse content, as well as infographics and statistics. The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom provides confidential support to anyone undergoing a challenge or ban. Support can come in the form of letters, book reviews, resources, talking points or emotional support. Report censorship online or by calling -800-545-2433, ext. 4226.