“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow lively debate within that spectrum.”
As a librarian, banning books is something I have pretty strong feelings about. So with Banned Books Week coming up September 18-24, I felt motivated to write this post.
Banned Books Week is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. The library at FRCC’s Westminster campus will be hosting a talk on intellectual freedom with two experts from the Colorado Association of Libraries. I hope you can come join us:
Banned Books: Explicit, Offensive, Unsuitable—and on the Library Shelf
Wednesday, September 28, 2022
4:00 – 5:00 p.m.
Front Range Community College Library
Room L-211 (on the top floor)
Miranda Doran-Myers and Dodie Ownes, co-chairs of the Colorado Association of Libraries Intellectual Freedom Committee
Dodie is an adult services librarian at Denver Public Library.
Miranda is technical services librarian for the Colorado State Publications Library.
Join us to hear about the latest challenges, learn what you can do to support schools and libraries, and play a challenging round of Banned Books Trivia!
Not Just in the Past
Unfortunately, attempts to ban books are not just a historical phenomenon. Just last year, the American Library Association tracked and measured 729 attempted bans on library, school and university materials and services—the highest number since it began tracking these statistics in 2002.
The call for book banning is one way that information access is restricted. But books aren’t the only victims of banning—programs, displays and even databases are targeted, too. With that in mind, let’s explore some of the ways people and organizations try to restrict access to information…
Censorship Divides Us
Censorship is considered the suppression of speech or information that is considered harmful. Calls for censorship can come for many reasons including moral, religious and political.
Nowadays, requests for book removal in public and school libraries are widespread and can come from both sides of the political spectrum. Basing a decision to remove materials entirely on content is censorship, something that goes against librarians’ core values.
LGBTQ books and books about race are the most frequent targets of book bans. Often the demands for removal are made by religious groups. Even classics are not exempt. Early this year, To Kill a Mockingbird was pulled from a Seattle school library over racist depictions.
Restricting access to books and the information they contain has far-reaching impacts for libraries and readers. Oftentimes, just one person’s objections can determine if books remain or if they’re pulled.
Threats, Intimidation Lead to Self-Censorship
Serious challenges to people’s information access often happen when journalists are threatened. Threats can occur in the form of violence, censoring what can be published and discrediting the journalist’s credentials.
Threats to journalists frequently occur in communist and authoritarian countries where governments may have total control—or at least significant influence—over what is published. These types of governments want control over what information is published in order to control the narrative people see and hear.
Here in the US, corporate ownership of the media results in fewer voices and perspectives being heard. Corporate media in the United States is now mostly owned by just six companies: AT&T, Comcast, Fox, Paramount, Sony and Walt Disney. In the 1980’s there were ten times more media owners.
These six companies control much of the television, movies, radio and the print publications we see. Independent media lacks the financial subsidies that large corporations receive, and producers often struggle to remain financially viable. (You can support critical local journalism by paying for a subscription to your hometown newspaper or online publication.)
Social Media—A Chilling Effect
On an individual level, self-censorship can apply whenever someone is afraid to express her/his views due to fear of the reaction they might receive. Social media can increase extreme reactions and stifle debate when someone expresses unpopular views.
At times, it can be easier to remain silent instead of risking hostile social media responses. The temptation to remain silent increases when the consequences are extreme.
Books Unite Us
What can you do to fight censorship in the current environment? Here are some great ideas from the American Library Association for how to encourage free expression and show your community how important intellectual freedom is.
- Come to FRCC’s Banned Books event! (See the top of this post for details.)
- Stream a Banned Books Week webinar.
- Write a letter of support to a banned or challenged author.
- Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper or online publication.
- Help spread the word on social media by using the hashtag #bannedbooksweek on your posts.
- Join the Freedom to Read Foundation.
Finally, don’t forget to read! Reading about—and listening to—differing perspectives and opinions is important for us to learn. Consider reading a banned book this week.
Be bold enough to listen to perspectives that challenge your thinking. Only then will growth be possible.