Books = good. Censorship = bad. The freedom to read = essential.
That’s the gist of Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of the value of free and open access to information that brings together librarians, authors, teachers, and readers of all kinds by drawing attention to the harms of censorship. The event spotlights attempts to censor or ‘ban’ books, both currently and throughout history. This year, Banned Books Week runs from September 26 to October 2 with the theme of “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.”
The mission of providing “free and equal access to quality materials and services” (as per the Lewistown Public Library mission statement) is a critical pillar of our institution and libraries at large and is reflected in a collection management policy that provides for a diverse, wide-ranging, and factual collection. Despite these efforts, materials are often challenged by patrons that find their content offensive or believe they should not be available in libraries.
Annually, the American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom compiles a list of the Top 10 Most Challenged Books based on media stories and voluntary reports from throughout the US. For the second year in a row, Alex Gino’s “George” tops the list, citing challenges to its LGBTQIA+ content. Two books by Banned Books Week 2021 Honorary Chair, Jason Reynolds, take the number two and three most challenged spots, including “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” (with Ibram X. Kendi) and “All American Boys” (with Brendan Kiely). Both works discuss race and have been challenged for their “divisive topics” and “sensitive matter”. Also in the top ten for 2021 are books challenged for their inclusion of sexual assault and abuse, including “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson and “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, as well as classics that feature racial slurs and stereotypes, such as “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck and “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee.
While books are often challenged with the best intentions in mind — namely, to protect others, frequently children, from ideas or information believed to be harmful — censorship is directly in conflict with libraries’ mission of promoting intellectual freedom and equal access to information. Diverse perspectives in conjunction with empirical facts arm library users with understanding, expression, and critical analysis skills, as well as give them the capacity to speak truth to power. Within the library, this means that all patrons are easily able to find trustworthy information and stories that reflect a variety of identities and perspectives. As the Banned Books Week Coalition says, “books and information bring people together, help individuals see themselves in the stories of others, and aid the development of empathy and understanding for people from other backgrounds.”
Visit the Lewistown Public Library to check out frequently challenged books from our Banned Books Week display and to see the list of most challenged books for this year. If you have any questions about how the Library promotes intellectual freedom and diversity within our own collection, visit our website to view our collection management policies.