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Banned Books Week: Still Relevant After All These Years?

Between 2001 and 2005, several communities in the United States held gatherings to burn Harry Potter books.

In 2010, tremendously popular teen books Twilight and The Hunger Games were both on the list of the top ten challenged books for that year.

In 2011, there were 326 reported book challenges, according to the Office for Intellectual Freedom; among those most frequently challenged were classics Brave New World and To Kill a Mockingbird.
Earlier in 2012, libraries in three states decided to remove Fifty Shades of Grey from shelves, or to refrain from purchasing it altogether, despite tremendous demand.

Censorship is alive and well, my friends. And even in our increasingly digital society, it is more relevant than ever.

I can see the questions forming in your mind now: Uh, if my library doesn’t have a book, I can just buy it on Amazon, How does this affect me? Hey, I thought this was a blog about, like, tech stuff– why are you rambling on about books? I get all my information online anyway, so who cares if a book is banned?

Well, here’s the thing: it’s not so much about the books themselves; rather, it’s an issue of intellectual freedom. Basically, you have the right to think whatever you want about any topic, and the freedom to express those thoughts and opinions. Intellectual freedom is a human right, and, on top of that, anyone who’s taken a high school government class knows that in America, we also have the Constitutional right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression (yes, I realize there are some limitations to this; now is not the time, however, to discuss the nuances of government documents).

When you forbid the dissemination of information, whether in the form of books or anything else, and you deny people the opportunity to read or write what they want to read or write, you are violating their human and legal rights.

While I’m up here on my soapbox, here’s another thing: for those of us who are members of the information field, particularly those of us who are future librarians, it is our job to help people access any information they want or need. We don’t get to let our own prejudices or opinions, or the prejudices and opinions of other community members, determine what is suitable for everyone. It is in the best interest of society to have access to a wide variety of information, which spans a diverse range of thoughts and viewpoints, even if it is dangerous, or different, or just unpopular. As information professionals, we are responsible for carefully protecting people’s freedom to read by fighting for access to challenged materials and contesting those who try to ban resources. To do otherwise would be irresponsible and a disservice to the profession.
For those of you who prefer reading Wikipedia to actual books, this year Banned Books Week is going digital. Censorship on the internet is a particularly pressing issue in schools and school libraries, where restrictive filtering policies prevent access to relevant websites and hinder development of information literacy skills. Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that filters are preventing teachers and students from accessing legitimate educational websites.

On top of this, restrictive filters prevent students from learning valid skills such as evaluating digital sources for accuracy and validity. Because of this, many students leave school with insufficiently developed information literacy skills. Additionally, many schools restrict access to social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter, depriving students and teachers of the opportunity for meaningful online interactions and authentic educational experiences in the digital arena.

The bottom line is this: denying people access to information, even information with which we don’t agree, is bad. It violates our intellectual freedom, which is one of our human rights. It’s bad whether you’re restricting books or websites, and it’s going to continue happening for as long as people have differing opinions, unless we do something to stop it.

So, now that I’ve (hopefully) convinced you that Banned Books Week is still relevant, what can you do to participate? I’m glad you asked!  You can celebrate Banned Books Week by participating in a virtual read-out or heading to the Banned Books Week website to find an event in your area.

Want to know more? Find out what your state is doing to celebrate Banned Books Week, see a list of the 100 most frequently challenged books of the previous decade, read about author Laurie Halse Anderson’s personal experience with censorship, or follow the conversation on Twitter using #bannedbooksweek.

What’s YOUR favorite banned book? Let us know in the comments or contact Alison at or on Twitter @alisonjane0306.

Alison Glass

Alison is a grad student in library and information science at the iSchool. Because she is perpetually indecisive and persistently curious, this is her third round of graduate school. Alison was a teacher in a previous life, and is interested in all things education, including information literacy, social media in the classroom, censorship, and the future of school libraries. She is addicted to Pinterest and chocolate. Find her on Twitter @alisonjane0306.

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