- Banned Books Week
Banned Books Week is an
awareness campaign, sponsored annually by the American Library Association(ALA), the American Booksellers Association, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, American Society of Journalists and Authors, Association of American Publishers, National Association of College Stores, and endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, in an attempt to protect freedom of speechby celebrating banned and challenged books. Despite the unorthodox nature of some of the material, Banned Books Week celebrates freedom of choice and the requirement to keep such material publicly available so that people can develop their own conclusions and opionions.
Held during the last week of September since 1982, Banned Books Week not only encourages readers to examine controversial literary works, but also promotes intellectual freedom in libraries, schools, and bookstores. Offering Banned Books Week kits, the ALA sells posters, buttons, and bookmarks to celebrate the event. Many educational facilities also celebrate banned and challenged books during this week, often creating displays and programs around the awareness campaign. Additionally, various booksellers sponsor activities and events in support of Banned Books Weeks. Some retailers create window displays, while others go further, inviting banned authors to come speak at their stores, as well as fund annual essay contests about freedom of expression.
Banned books vs. challenged books
The difference between a challenge and a banning
Challenging and banning books both threaten readers’ abilities to access materials; however, there is a difference between "challenging" and "banning" books. Challenging a book is a formal, oral or written attempt to "remove or restrict materials based upon the objections of a person or a group."
A book banning occurs when these controversial materials are actually removed from a library or curriculum, thereby restricting access to other readers. The American Library Association receives reports of challenges, composing a list of the most frequently challenged and banned books. [American Library Association. 2007. “ [http://www.ala.org/ala/oif/bannedbooksweek/challengedbanned/challengedbanned.htm ALA Challenged and Banned Books] ” 19 Feb. 2008]
Frequency of challenges
Every year, hundreds of books are challenged. In 2006, the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom received 546 challenges. These challenged books cover a variety of subjects and genres. Popular titles that often appear on the “Most Frequently Challenged List” include "Catcher in the Rye," "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," and "Of Mice and Men." However, this list expands and changes each year when new materials are published. [American Library Association. 2007. “ [http://www.ala.org/ala/oif/bannedbooksweek/challengedbanned/challengedbanned.htm ALA Challenged and Banned Books] ” 19 Feb. 2008]
Reasons for challenging a book
The main reasons books are challenged and banned
People challenge books and other materials for a variety of reasons; however, all challenges occur because the book in question is deemed controversial. Whether the books feature graphic language, strong violence, or explicit sexual content, people that challenge materials feel that others should not have access to them.
The most frequently banned book of 2006, children’s book
And Tango Makes Three, was repeatedly challenged for its depiction of homosexuality. The book, which is based on a true story, tells the story of two male penguins who come together to raise a baby penguin. Although many readers considered the story controversial and unnatural, other readers held the book in high esteem, helping it win multiple awards. [ [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B02E0DD103CF933A0575BC0A9619C8B63 Paternal Penguins Pique Parents] ]
"Witchcraft and the occult"
Although J.K. Rowling’s "Harry Potter" series is immensely popular, some people feel that the books encourage Satanism and occult practices. In 2007, a pastor of a Massachusetts Catholic school removed the series from the school’s library, “declaring that witchcraft and sorcery were inappropriate for a Catholic school. [ [http://www.boston.com/ae/books/articles/2007/10/25/man_from_ministry_bans_potter/ "Man from Ministry Bans Potter"] Tania deLuzuriaga, Boston Globe, October 25, 2007]
Even though the "Harry Potter" series have inspired children to pick up a book, groups in over 17 states have tried to ban the books, saying that they encourage children to participate in witchcraft and to disrespect adults. [ [http://www.boston.com/ae/books/articles/2007/10/25/man_from_ministry_bans_potter/ "Man from Ministry Bans Potter"] Tania deLuzuriaga, Boston Globe, October 25, 2007]
How are materials restricted?
Who can challenge books?
No organization or group has the sole authority to challenge books. Most challengers are individuals or groups that feel readers should not have access to materials for their own benefit.
The most successful challengers are national conservative organizations, which use their large budgets to “eclipse the First Amendment,” by challenging materials in libraries. Sharing resources, groups like the Evangelical ministry Focus on Family and the Christian Coalition work together to restrict materials all over the country. [Morgan, Candace. “Fighting the War Against Censorship: A National Perspective.” Library Journal. 120.17 (1995):36-38. EBSCO Academic Search Premier. Eastern IL. Lib. Charleston, IL. 19 Feb 2008]
Because these groups network and share resources, some are successful in challenging books in libraries. In Virginia, Family Friendly Libraries assisted supporters from other states to ban homosexual materials, such as the children’s book "Daddy’s Roommate" and gay magazine "The Advocate" from public libraries. Other conservative factions have gone as far as restricting children’s library cards so they can only check out videos from the juvenile section.
Although most of these groups are unsuccessful in challenging materials, they have influenced legislation that restricts children’s access to “inappropriate” material through the use of warning labels on “obscene, indecent, or mature” materials and “v-chips,” devices that allow users to block “inappropriate” material in television sets.
What is the process of challenging materials?
Once groups or individuals identify a book they deem inappropriate for readers, usually children, the first step to challenge a book is to issue a formal, written complaint to the school or library. Many challengers write to the institution requesting that the items be removed. [American Library Association. 2007. [http://www.ala.org/Template.cfm?Section=dealing&Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=77094 Conducting a Challenge Hearing] .” 22 Feb. 2008] Additionally, groups may also pressure the institution by threatening to revoke support and funding of that institution. [Morgan, Candace. “Fighting the War Against Censorship: A National Perspective.” Library Journal. 120.17 (1995):36-38. EBSCO Academic Search Premier. Eastern IL. Lib. Charleston, IL. 19 Feb 2008]
After issuing a complaint, the challengers must provide an explanation for the challenge. Most challenges end at this point, as the challenger “sees the logic of the selection process which emphasizes intellectual freedom and due process.” Additionally, many challengers are satisfied simply by the library taking their complaints seriously. [American Library Association. 2007. [http://www.ala.org/Template.cfm?Section=dealing&Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=77094 Conducting a Challenge Hearing] .” 22 Feb. 2008]
If the process continues, the library’s board calls a hearing, and discusses the controversial material. After listening to various speakers on both sides of the argument, the board evaluates the materials and makes a decision.
The consequences of challenging materials
Robert Doyle, author of “Books Challenged or Banned in 2006-2007,” believes that challenges are just as dangerous as bannings themselves. Even when challenged books remain in schools and public libraries, the damage is already done, as attempts to censor can lead to voluntary restriction of expression by those who seek to avoid controversy. [Doyle, Robert P. “Books Challenged or Banned in 2006-2007.” Illinois Library Association Reporter 25.4 (2007): ii-vi. WilsonSelectPlus. Eastern IL. Lib., Charleston, IL. 19 Jan. 2008]
In this case, publishers may not publish controversial works in order to avoid conflict. Additionally, schools, libraries, and booksellers may not purchase these works to prevent debate. [Doyle, Robert P. “Books Challenged or Banned in 2006-2007.” Illinois Library Association Reporter 25.4 (2007): ii-vi. WilsonSelectPlus. Eastern IL. Lib., Charleston, IL. 19 Jan. 2008]
Accessing restricted materials
It is uncommon that materials will actually be removed from a library or school because most challenges are unsuccessful.
Because the majority of book challenges occur in schools and school libraries, many readers can still gain access to controversial materials. However, the best way to ensure access to materials is to report any challenges at the American Library Website at www.ala.org. For help fighting a challenge, the ALA’s website also provides helpful information and links for advocates of free speech.
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