The week of September 21st through 27th marks Banned Books Week, the annual campaign by the American Library Association (ALA) dedicated to protecting intellectual freedom and the right to read whatever you choose. Every year, individuals and groups throughout the country occasionally demand that access to certain titles be restricted, or that they be removed completely, leading to an event ALA calls a challenge. Sometimes these efforts end up being successful, leading to an outright ban. Challenges and bans of books can occur in public, K-12, university, or special libraries; retail outlets where books are sold; classrooms; and anywhere else thoughts and ideas can be encountered and considered.
To give you an idea of the scope of this, over 11,300 books have been challenged since ALA started the event in 1982. In 2013 alone, there were 307 challenges reported to ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom. The total number of challenges may be higher still, but many go unreported. This year’s most frequently challenged books include a diverse group of titles ranging from Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series to 50 Shades of Grey. Click here for the list of the top 10 most frequently challenged books for each year since 2001.
This year, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is also heavily involved with Banned Books Week, highlighting the fact that comic books and graphic novels of all topics and age ranges are frequently the victim of library and classroom challenges. You can follow this link to their website for more information, frequently asked questions, and a PDF handbook featuring a cover by Bone cartoonist and author Jeff Smith (who also finds himself on this year’s Top 10 challenges list).
We know this is a busy time of year for students, faculty, and staff alike, but take the time to celebrate your intellectual freedom. Read a banned book, have an unpopular idea, and embrace the freedom of thought and expression the Constitution allows.