Nonprofit Coalition Celebrates Banned Books Week
September 25 through October 1 marks Banned Books Week, an annual event that celebrates the freedom to read. The American Library Association hopes the nationwide event will also draw attention to the harms of banning books.
What do The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Catch-22, and The Catcher in the Rye all have in common? They’re all books that were banned at one point or another.
These three titles—along with the 11,000-plus others that have been challenged since 1982—are the reason that the American Library Association (ALA), the American Booksellers Association, the Association of American Publishers, and a handful of others have joined together in sponsoring Banned Books Week.
While the coalition hopes that the event will draw attention to the problems of censorship, its primary goal is to celebrate the freedom to read. The celebration involves activities, such as the “Virtual Read-Out,” in which people can submit videos of themselves reading three-minute snippets of their favorite banned books.
The Banned Books Week’s website also offer resources for those facing censorship issues, and it gives information on dozens of events—some of which have received Banned Books Week grants—that are taking place nationwide
But why does America need a Banned Books Week? After all, freedom of speech and of the press is a protected right in the country, not to mention one of the foundational elements of the U.S. democracy.
“If you believe in the First Amendment and America, the idea is that we are the home of the free—free to read—and we are the land of the brave,” said James LaRue, director of the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom, to WBEZ Chicago. “That means we’re not afraid of ideas. So, despite our history, inevitably, in every generation, there’s a group of people who want to remove ideas from the table—remove stories from the table.”
LaRue told WBEZ Chicago that though the themes of book complaints have evolved throughout the years, the essence of the arguments remain much the same: “Someone has the right to decide what you can’t know.”
In addition, LaRue said that ALA uses this time of year to take a survey of the country. “What’s the status of the freedom to read in America today?” he said. “And what does that tell us about ourselves.”
In doing that, ALA is finding that as the number of people actively seeking to ban books shrinks, so does the number of school librarians. And when a librarian leaves a school, then that frontline advocacy for books also leaves. ALA also found that nine-out-of-the-10 books that were most challenged in 2015 were by diverse authors or about diverse content, ranging from LGBT to religious issues.
“While books have been and continue to be banned, part of the Banned Books Week celebration is the fact that, in a majority of cases, the books have remained available,” said ALA on its website. “This happens only thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, students, and community members who stand up and speak out for the freedom to read.”