With attempts to ban books skyrocketing in the US, now is a critical time to support intellectual freedom.
“The essential thing is to defend a book’s right to exist, a right that is at the heart of any democracy… the whole point of fiction is that it is fiction and should be treated as such. We enter dangerous territory when we blur the lines between fiction and reality, or weaponize fiction to further an agenda—be it political, religious, or personal.”-Azar Nafisi
My Personal Book Ban Attempt
When I was about ten years old, I tried to get my mom to ban a book. It wasn’t because I was uncomfortable with adult themes in the book or found the book offensive to my beliefs. To be honest, I was bored by the writing and didn’t want to finish the book, even though it was required in my middle school English class.
I wanted to go back to reading books I already knew I loved. I thought I had a sure-fire way to get out of reading this boring one.
“Mom,” I said solemnly. “This book has witchcraft in it.”
My mom nodded. I was ready to accept her concern about me being recruited into a coven. However, she simply responded, “Thank you for telling me. I’m sure you will be able to tell what’s fake and what’s real.”
My plan backfired that day. Looking back, though, I’m grateful for my mom’s response. She was open to discussing the book with me and she trusted my critical thinking skills.
She believed that I could read material that she or I may not agree with and not be scarred by the experience. My mom was demonstrating principles of intellectual freedom.
What is Banned Books Week?
Every year, the American Libraries Association (ALA) and libraries across the country commemorate Banned Books Week. This event provides an opportunity to learn more about our right to read—and the past and present attempts to restrict intellectual freedom in libraries and schools.
Much like my mom encouraging me to read a variety of books with different viewpoints, Banned Books Week provides an opportunity for libraries to promote “the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.” (ALA “Banned Books Week Q&A”)
This year, Banned Books Week takes place October 1-7, and it is more important than ever.
Book Bans Sky Rocketing in the United States
In 2022, attempts to censor library books and resources across the United States nearly doubled compared to the previous year, for a total of 1,269 challenges. (ALA, “2022 Book Ban Data”)
This is the highest number of book ban attempts in 20 years and 2,571 unique titles were targeted for censorship. (“2022 Book Ban Data”) The ALA attributes part of this large jump to groups distributing lists of books for people to target for censorship. (“2022 Book Ban Data”)
Ninety percent of book challenges in 2022 requested the removal or restriction of multiple titles. (“2022 Book Ban Data”) Before 2021, most challenges related to just one title. (“2022 Book Ban Data”)
Which Books are Being Targeted for Censorship?
ALA found that most challenged titles were by or about LGBTQIA+ persons and/or Black, Indigenous, and people of color. (“2022 Book Ban Data.”) In 2021, Colorado public libraries recorded 20 challenges to materials, the majority of which related to LGBTQ+ topics. (Bahlenhorst)
In 2022, the ALA recorded 17 book challenges in Colorado; the most frequently challenged title was the graphic novel, Genderqueer: A Memoir. (“Censorship by the Numbers”) You can view the most frequently challenged books in 2022 on the ALA website, “Top 13 Most Challenged Books of 2022” or review books that have received numerous challenges over the past decade: “Top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books: 2010-2019.”
Fortunately, not all challenges result in books being removed from the library shelves. However, these attempts to censor books still have serious consequences.
Why Does Banned Books Week Matter?
In addition to individuals attempting to ban certain books in their communities, some state legislatures are going a step further. In recent years, state legislatures have proposed bills that would restrict teaching and classroom discussions on topics like race, gender, American history, and LGBTQ+ identities. (PEN America)
School and public libraries are often targeted in these sweeping censorship attempts. Their staff could be fined or otherwise punished for providing access to materials that could “indoctrinate” students or make them uncomfortable. (PEN America)
However, these attempts to protect some students would mean that no one would have access to the materials, including adults and families who want to read about a variety of viewpoints.
When schools and libraries are worried about the risks of engaging with “controversial topics”—from losing funding to firing to death threats—they are more likely to self-censor and to not provide books, programs, or curriculums that expand our perspectives with more ways of thinking about the world.
Differing Perspectives Are Critical for Democracy
When we have access to fewer perspectives, it becomes easier to dehumanize people with views that aren’t like ours. When we dehumanize each other, we lose part of our democracy.
Democracy relies on a well-informed citizenry that can think critically about issues facing our communities, our country, and our world. Democracy relies on a base level of trust in our fellow citizens.
Democracy requires that we attempt to listen to each other, even when we disagree. When we attempt to ban people’s unique stories and perspectives, we miss out on learning what we don’t know.
We miss out on seeing things in a new way, even if we ultimately do not change our opinions. We let ideology, fear, and misinformation make our decisions instead of compassion, open-mindedness, and shared facts.
Amidst the distressing news about book ban attempts and censorship legislation, it is important to remember that most voters support intellectual freedom and value libraries. According to a poll conducted by Hart Research Associates and North Star Opinion Research on behalf of the ALA, 71% of voters do not support removing materials from libraries.
Most voters and parents polled trust their local libraries to “make good decisions about what books to include in their collections and make available in their communities” and say that books in the library represent a variety of viewpoints (ALA “Voters Oppose Book Bans in Libraries”). Librarians, teachers, and students have also been pushing back against book bans and challenges.
You can learn more and demonstrate your support for intellectual freedom by joining upcoming library activities:
Banned Books Week Reading Challenge. October 1-31, online. Poudre Libraries – Fort Collins (registration required)
- Read one banned book during October and complete at least one of six activity options to be entered to win a banned books swag bag. Activities include visiting a library display, reading multiple perspectives about an issue in the news, attending a Banned Books Week library event, and more.
Registration is also open for two book clubs for teen or middle school readers in Fort Collins:
- Free to Read Book Club on October 19 at 6:30 pm at Council Tree Library, Poudre Libraries (registration required – space is limited)
- Fearless Readers book club on November 3 at 6:00 pm at Council Tree Library, Poudre Libraries (registration required – space is limited; or students in grades 4, 5, and 6 only)
Come to One of Our Banned Book Events!
Special Edition of the Scoop: Censorship & Banned Books on September 26 at 6:30 pm at Old Town Library, Poudre Libraries – Fort Collins (registration encouraged)
- In this special edition of “The Scoop,” we’ll be discussing censorship and Banned Books leading up to Banned Books Week (October 1 – October 7.) Voice your thoughts on censorship and intellectual freedom, participate in mediated debates and activities, and hear from experts at your Library. These adventurous public discussions aim to showcase different viewpoints to keep our community in touch with the diverse range of backgrounds, positions, and opinions that make us great. Light refreshments will be provided. Proudly presented by The Deliberative Journalism Project.
Uncensored: Banned Book Week Kick-Off on October 2 at 6:30 at The Lyric, Fort Collins. (registration encouraged)
- Engage with passages from frequently challenged books and take action to protect your right to read. This event will feature live readings of passages from frequently challenged books, a book swap, and actions you can take to fight against censorship. Bring a book you’d like to swap with other attendees – especially if it’s a book that changed your perspective or gave you new insights!
Banned Books Bingo on Wednesday, October 4 at 6:00 pm at Mythmaker Brewery, Fort Collins (no registration)
- Play Bingo AND learn about banned books at this special Banned Books Bingo session! Hosted by Mythmaker Brewing and Poudre Libraries.
A Conversation on Banning Books on Wednesday October 4 at 6:00pm-7:30pm, Westminster Campus Library, Westminster. (no registration)
- Book challenges are happening every day in schools and libraries across the country. Join a panel discussion held during Banned Books Week, moderated by the Colorado Association of Libraries (CAL), Intellectual Freedom Committee, to discuss censorship attempts, and defending the right to read. Sponsored by Front Range Library Outreach and Westminster Public Library.
BYOBook Club on Monday October 23 at 5:30pm-7:00pm, Wolverine Farm Publick House, Fort Collins. (registration required)
- Is there anything better than a good book? YES! A good book AND beer. Both can be found at the BYOBook Club hosted at Wolverine Farm Publick House. But wait! There’s more! You get to pick your own book. Instead of a required book, you can choose any book that falls into our monthly theme. Be ready to discuss your pick and receive new book recommendations. Our October theme is Banned Books.
Happy Banned Books Week—let’s all keep reading, thinking and speaking up!
American Library Association (ALA). (2023). “2022 Book Ban Data.” Issues & Advocacy. https://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/book-ban-data. Accessed September 19, 2023.
ALA. “Banned Books Week Q&A.” Issues & Advocacy. https://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/banned-books-qa. Accessed September 19, 2023.
ALA. “Censorship by the Numbers.” Issues & Advocacy. https://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/by-the-numbers. Accessed September 19, 2023.
ALA. “Voters Oppose Book Bans in Libraries.” Issues & Advocacy, March 21, 2022. http://www.ala.org/advocacy/voters-oppose-book-bans-libraries (Accessed September 20, 2023) Document ID: ef0f9c38-9eb2-486f-bbea-751f083f4b7a
Bahlenhorst, A. (2022). “Challenged Materials in Colorado Public Libraries 2021.” Library Research Services, Fast Facts ED3/110.10/No. 362. https://www.lrs.org/fast-facts-reports/challenged-materials-in-colorado-public-libraries-2021/. Accessed September 19, 2023.
Nafisi, Azar. Read Dangerously: The Subversive Power of Literature in Troubled Times. HarperCollins, 2022, p. 23.
PEN American. “Key Findings.” America’s Censored Classrooms. 2022, https://pen.org/report/americas-censored-classrooms/. Accessed September 19, 2023.