"Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us."
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 this time of year, 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).
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). This year’s theme 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.”
Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking with New York’s Ridge Mills Elementary school librarian, Jill Schaal, who discussed her opinion on Banned Books Week, as well as her experiences with challenged content as a librarian.
Q: What is your opinion on the censoring and banning of books?
A: It is very wrong. No one, other than a parent of a young child, has the right to decide what is appropriate reading material.
Q: Do you believe that anyone has the right to ban or censor books?
Q: Why do you think people try to get books censored or banned?
A: Because the book goes against their beliefs.
Q: Is there any book that you’ve read that you believe should be banned from being read by readers? If so, why?
Q: Do you think that there should be some kind of line drawn that limits what an author has a right to write about?
A: If it is a fiction book, then no. If it is non-fiction, informational books are another story completely. They should be fact checked prior to publication.
Q: Have you ever read a book that was banned or censored from schools and libraries?
A: I have read many books that have been banned in other communities. I even have a large number of them in my elementary school library.
Q: In your experience, what are some common patterns/thematics you have seen when it comes to challenged books and its text?
A: Language, witchery, LGBTQIA+ content, and racism.
Q: Do you have books that center around the above topics in your library?
A: Yes, I do.
Q: Why do you think someone would want a title such as Huckleberry Finn or Harry Potter banned?
A: Harry Potter was banned because of the themes of witchcraft, while Huck Finn was most likely [banned] due to language.
Q: What books do you know of that have been banned that you wish weren’t?
A: I wish that all of the books on the current ALA banned book list have not been banned. I am lucky enough to live and work in an open-minded community that does not typically ban books.
Q: In your opinion, what do all challenged books have in common?
A: The need for people to think outside of their regular world and be open to other ideas.
Q: Do you think that banned books have important stories to tell? If so, what are they?
A: Absolutely! Many of the newer titles being challenged deal with LGBTQIA+ content or topics of racism. These are both topics that need to be discussed in our communities.
Q: Do you think that young people should have access to all books after a certain age? If so, why? If not, please explain.
A: I believe that only a parent should be able to decide what is appropriate for their child under the age of fifteen or sixteen. As a school librarian, it is my responsibility to give access to all books to ALL children as long as they are developmentally appropriate. If a parent does not want their child to have access to a certain title, I need to respect that. However, that specific parent does not get a say in what other children (that do not belong to them), have access to.
Curious to learn more about why books are banned? Want to check out some lists of the most notorious challenged books of all time? The resources below are directly from the American Library Association and bannedbooksweek.org.
- Banned Books Week 2021: Book Unite Us
- The Top Ten Most Challenged Books Lists
- About Banned and Challenged Books
- LocalHop’s Overview of Banned Books Week History