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Banned Books R Us
Celebrating Banned Books Week Oct 1-7
“This is a dangerous time for readers and the public servants who provide access to reading materials. Readers, particularly students, are losing access to critical information, and librarians and teachers are under attack for doing their jobs.” - Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom
Such is the dire language being used as we celebrate Banned Books Week this October 1-7, because book banning has been on a dangerous rise, intertwined with political movements that grew out of the divisiveness spawned by the COVID-19 pandemic. At least 50 groups pushing for book bans have formed since 2021, and they have utilized new strategies to intimidate school boards and librarians, employing tactics such as "swarming school board meetings, demanding newfangled rating systems for libraries, using inflammatory language about 'grooming' and 'pornography,' and even filing criminal complaints against school officials, teachers, and librarians," according to research by PEN America.
The theme for Banned Books Week 2023 is "Let Freedom Read." "When we ban books, we're closing off readers to people, places, and perspectives," says the ALA website. "But when we stand up for stories, we unleash the power that lies inside every book. We liberate the array of voices that need to be heard and the scenes that need to be seen. Let freedom read!"
For more than 40 years, Banned Books Week has celebrated the freedom to read, spotlighting current and past attempts to censor books in libraries and schools. The event mobilizes the entire book community to support "the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular." "In a time of intense political polarization, library staff in every state are facing an unprecedented number of attempts to ban books," says the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. ALA documented 1,269 demands to censor library books and resources in 2022, the highest number of attempted book bans since they began compiling data about censorship in libraries more than 20 years ago. The unparalleled number of reported book challenges in 2022 nearly doubles the 729 book challenges reported in 2021. Of the record 2,571 unique titles targeted for censorship, "most were by or about LGBTQIA+ persons and Black, Indigenous, and people of color." Current studies suggest a continued book banning rise of about 20 percent over 2022, so far in 2023.
The bright spot in this dark story is that these high-profile book bans have acted as a PR campaign for banned books, and also mobilized groups like ALA, ABA, PEN America into more emphatic action. Simon & Schuster has launched a new website, Books Belong, with reading group guides, book lists, giveaways, exclusive author and expert content, and links to additional resources. "Supporters of the right to read will find resources for them to take action when faced with a challenge in their community, as well as guidance on how to easily incorporate banned and challenged books into classroom, library, and family reading time," says the website.
“Books Belong everywhere: whether fiction or nonfiction, books help us to see ourselves and others in the world. They must be available to everyone so that readers may connect to the stories that speak to them, to learn more deeply about themselves, and about other people and cultures,” said Michelle Leo, Vice President, Education & Library Marketing at Simon & Schuster. “Books Belong will support readers and communities in the fight against book bans by sharing knowledge and resources that will enable them to make informed decisions about the books they choose to read.”
Penguin Random House is launching the Banned Wagon Tour in partnership with the Freedom to Read Foundation, PEN America, and the Little Free Library "to combat book banning and censorship, which includes legal actions, tailored support for various stakeholders, and advocacy for First Amendment rights." The "Vehicle for Change" book mobile will travel across the South, stopping in Atlanta, Nashville, New Orleans and Houston, celebrating the power of literature, and "getting books to the people who need and want them most." The Banned Wagon will distribute a selection of 12 books that are currently being banned and challenged across the country to attendees in each city. The 12 titles are: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot; Dear Martin, by Nic Stone; How to Be an Antiracist; by Ibram X. Kendi; I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou; I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel & Jazz Jennings and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas; Too Bright to See, by Kyle Lukoff; The Magic Fish, by Trung Le Nguyen; Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag, by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Steven Salerno; The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini; The Handmaid's Tale (Movie Tie-in), by Margaret Atwood; The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison; and SHOUT, by Laurie Halse Anderson.
Another ALA initiative, Unite Against Book Bans, is a compendium of freedom to read efforts, and issues this warning: “Readers who think, ‘this will never happen in our community,’ need to think again. More than half the states have legislation proposed or passed that would take library books off the shelves, punish library workers who dare to make books accessible and silence the voices of LGBTQ, BIPOC and other authors. Speaking up and raising our voices now can stop censorship where it’s happening and prevent censorship where it’s just getting started.”
Suggested actions we as concerned citizens can take include:
- Borrow a library book at risk of being banned.
- Write a letter to the editor or to an elected leader.
- Attend a meeting of local officials or library or school board.
- Stage a public event or peaceful protest in support of libraries.
- Report censorship.
Happy Banned Books Week! Read a banned book today!