What is Banned Books Week?
Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in book challenges. It is usually held the last week of September to celebrate the value of free and open access to information. It started here in the United States and has been celebrated at libraries, schools, theaters, bookstores, and other locations around the country, and there’s now a celebration of the right to read in the United Kingdom.
What is Banned Books Week?
What is a challenge? What is a ban?
Book bans generally start with a challenge—a verbal or formal written attempt to restrict access to materials or to remove them entirely. A ban happens when those materials are actually removed from shelves, classrooms, or performance spaces.
Are books really still banned in the United States?
Yes! Every year, the American Library Association reports hundreds of challenges to books in schools and libraries all over the United States, and ALA estimates that the unreported number of challenges is significantly higher. People continually try to take away readers’ power to decide what books are right for themselves or their children by initiating challenges to remove books from libraries. In some cases, books are actually removed from libraries and class-rooms. This not only infringes on readers’ rights, but also limits access to materials, especially for those who do not have the opportunity to purchase books.
Why are books challenged?
Books are usually challenged with the best of intentions, often motivated by a desire to protect younger readers from “inappropriate” content. Books are challenged over sexual content, profanity, age appropriateness, violence, religious viewpoint, LGBTQ content, political bias, drug and alcohol use, suicide, and much more.
Who challenges and bans books? Most challenges come from library patrons and parents, who raise concerns over content they find objectionable. Sometimes, a library or school staffer or administrator will bring a challenge. Politicians, political organizations, and religious groups have also targeted books and plays. On a few occasions, students have brought complaints to administrators.
The ultimate arbitrator of the challenge depends on the policies of the institution where a book is challenged. Many schools and libraries have a challenge policy that starts with a written complaint, which results in a review committee being convened to read and consider the material being challenged. The review committee may make the decision based on a majority vote, or they may give a recommendation to the school or library administrator or board, which in turn makes the call on whether a work is retained. Institutions without a thoughtful reconsideration protocol are far more likely to ban materials.
Top Ten Challenged Books of 2017
The American Library Association tracked 354 challenges to library, school and university materials and services in 2017. Of the 416 books that were challenged or banned in 2017, here are the top 10 most challenged:
Explore More Banned Books
• List of 100 most frequently challenged books 1990-99
• List of 100 most frequently challenged books 2000-09
Censorship: What Can You Do?
Whether you’re age 7 or 107, the First Amendment protects your right to access information. Here are some ways you can help uphold that right:
- Stay informed! Keep in touch with your local librarians and educators to find out about book challenges in your community. Subscribe to news publications dedicated to the First Amendment and free expression, such as email newsletters from the members of the Banned Books Week Coalition.
- Report censorship! Reporting challenges when they happen helps free expression advocates gather necessary information about what materials are at risk. The members of the Banned Books Week Coalition are ready to help fight challenges in your community, but we need to hear about them first! The best way to fight censorship is to call it out when it occurs. Several members of the Coalition have censorship report forms on their websites.
- Speak up! Attempts to ban books rarely succeed when people speak out against them. Whether it is a school board, PTA, or library meeting or a public hearing, be there to speak up for the First Amendment and the right to read. Write letters to your local administrators, politicians, and newspapers supporting the right to read. Remind your fellow citizens and officials that no one has the right to restrict access to books, and be prepared to stand up for all books, even those you may not like. Any successful book ban opens the door to more censorship.