Every year, we spend a week in September talking about the injustices of the world and calling out some of our favorite banned books. Usually I’m one to pull out a Top Ten and talk about why these books I really enjoyed were banned in some place and generally why I think banned books are ridiculous. This year, I want to start off talking about why books are banned at all, the process of banning them, and what we can do about it.
Books Still Get Banned All the Time
I think this is the first really important talking point. We have taken so many strides since the 1950s where our work was much more censored, but modern books are challenged every day. There are so many individuals in our community who feel they are responsible to protect others from inappropriate or insensitive content. Because the author themselves has offended others, or because the topics discussed in the books may be unsuitable for children, or because the content makes certain individuals uncomfortable – all of these are grounds for getting a book banned.
The good news: despite the fact books are still challenged every day, far fewer of them end up removed from schools and libraries than they would have even ten years ago.
Why Books are Banned
Earlier this year, the American Library Association released a list of books that were the most challenged in 2016. The infographic below lists the books that were challenged, and a few more statistics about the process involved.
As you can see, there is a strong trend in banning books because of their references to sexuality and violence. These have always been common things, but what I find particularly disappointing is that the concerns about sexuality are not about sexual content, but about the sexual orientation and experimentation of the characters. How large the “religious viewpoint” section is. Violence, offensive language, drugs… you expect to see those ones. What personally bothers me is the quantity of books that are challenged for “controversial topics”. I strongly believe these is a difference between inappropriate content and stuff-you-may-not-personally-believe-in.
I won’t go into LGBTQ, because that’s not a “belief”, that’s a truth, and while acceptance is much higher than it used to be, there are so many struggles to make the world realize that it is not a choice.
I would like to remind my readers that this list was a collection of 2016s books. I estimate that with the political climate this year, we’ll be seeing a different collection and even more stronger opinions.
I would also like to note the wee fact in the bottom lefthand corner of this infographic:
82-97% of challenges remain unreported.
This means that the information we have about books being removed from libraries is only representative of 3-18% of all situations. That remaining percentage shows schools and libraries that choose not to report the complaints about the book. We don’t know if the request is honored.
What Can We Do About It as Book Lovers?
If you’re not a teacher or librarian, it may seem like we’re a bit helpless to the plight of these books. But we’re not! If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a book blogger, it’s that we have immense power as a group. While I cannot speak for the rest of the world, it’s extremely rare in the United States that people do not have access to the online sphere. While we spend a lot of time talking about new releases and old favorites, we have the ability to call out these books being pulled from shelves and have mature, intellectual discussions about their themes and content. In our reviews, we discuss the parts we did and did not like about the books, and that leaves future readers the opportunity to choose for themselves whether or not to read.
I believe in the freedom of choice. I believe I have the right to look at a book with starkly different views than mine and say, “Hey. I don’t think I’m going to read that?”
I DO NOT believe that access to these books should be revoked.
Calling out I Am Jazz, in particular.
I Am Jazz is a book about a transgender child. In that respect, it is fairly unique and could give comfort to a child facing the same situation as Jazz. It is extremely difficult STILL to come out as LGBTQ. This book is AMAZING in its empathy and acceptance. But because there are those who do not believe this content is appropriate, a child who needs this book may not have access to it.
Of course there still is the whole issue of the illustrator portraying Jazz as white when she isn’t? That’s a whole different issue. But as a story about being a transgender child, this book is extremely important, as well as Jazz Jennings’ courage to share her story in all the forms she has, and to embolden transgender children and adolescents to be true to themselves.
In more proactive terms as well, there’s ALL SORTS of cool stuff that we can do to educate people on Banned Books. You can write letters to newspapers or online news hubs. You can do a read-out, take to social media and BE LOUD. There are so many things an average citizen can do to make others aware of the books being banned, and why.
For specifics and more information about this, check out the ALA’s Get Involved page – there are A BUNCH of really useful links.
What Can we Do about it as Librarians?
Unless you count the overflowing shelves in my apartment a library, I’m not a librarian. I don’t have the training. BUT. I do want to bring up the Library Bill of Rights. While I’m sure all trained librarians are well aware of this, it’s a good reminder that you are permitted to fight back against individuals are groups demanding removal of any book from your facility.
The below quote has been taken from the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights page, and serves as a good reminder whenever anyone is approached about removing a book.
The American Library Association affirms that all libraries are forums for information and ideas, and that the following basic policies should guide their services.
I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.
II. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.
III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.
IV. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.
V. A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.
VI. Libraries which make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.
Adopted June 19, 1939, by the ALA Council; amended October 14, 1944; June 18, 1948; February 2, 1961; June 27, 1967; January 23, 1980; inclusion of “age” reaffirmed January 23, 1996.
Hah! Isn’t that the worst subheading ever? I think that if I used that in an essay while I was in school, I’d’ve lost serious points.
IN CONCLUSION, banning books is an unfortunate business that libraries face every day. We need to be as proactive as possible in supporting the freedom of expression and the right to free speech of these authors, and being as open-minded as possible towards the books that are being challenged. Even if we personally don’t enjoy the book or agree with it, the fact that it is AVAILABLE is SO. SO. IMPORTANT.
Thanks everyone, and Happy Banned Books Week!