Banned Books Week, held October 1-7, 2023, is a nationwide, annual celebration of our freedom to read. It raises awareness about attempts to ban or restrict access to books and promotes discussions on the First Amendment rights of readers and authors, and the importance of intellectual freedom. During this week, libraries, schools, and bookstores come together to promote the value of free and open access to information and ideas. It is a time to reflect on the books that have been challenged or banned throughout history and to champion the fundamental right to access diverse ideas and perspectives.
Banned Books Week serves as a reminder of the importance of defending intellectual freedom and the right to read, while also acknowledging the ongoing challenges and controversies surrounding censorship and access to information. It encourages readers to make their own decisions about what they read and to resist efforts to suppress diverse voices and perspectives in literature. Every year, public libraries play a vital role in promoting open access to a wide range of materials, including those that have faced challenges and bans in various communities.
We also celebrate challenged books during Banned Books Week; there is a difference between challenged and banned.
an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objectives of a person or a group.
the removal of challenged materials.
Throughout history, books have been challenged or banned for various reasons, including objections to their content, themes, ideas or representations. Often, these challenges come from well-intentioned people who have concerns about the appropriateness of certain books for certain audiences, such as children and teens. However, the decision to ban a book limits readers’ access to diverse viewpoints and stifles intellectual freedom. As former Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas said, “Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.”
Between January 1 and August 31, 2023, 695 attempts to censor library materials targeted 1,915 unique titles. This is a 20% increase over the same period in 2022. Challenges are on pace to set a record for the third straight year in 2023. Public libraries often find themselves at the forefront of defending these works.
Banned Books Week is a vital reminder that we must actively defend our freedom to read and access diverse ideas. It is a time to celebrate the freedom to read and express ideas without censorship. By celebrating and engaging with banned books, we promote intellectual freedom and ensure that future generations can explore a wide range of perspectives and voices through literature. As former Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. said, “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” By defending the right to access diverse viewpoints, libraries contribute to a more informed and open-minded society.
by Harper Lee
Challenged – has racial themes and use of offensive language, but it is a powerful story about justice and empathy.
by Anne Frank
Challenged – has passages about puberty and teenage sexuality, and too depressing for younger readers, although it is an important work about life during the Holocaust.
by George Orwell
Challenged – for its portrayal of a totalitarian regime and its critique of surveillance and government control.
by J. D. Salinger
Challenged – contains profanity and discussions of teenage rebellion.
by Toni Morrison
Challenged – contains graphic content and discusses slavery, although it is a Pulitzer Prize Winning novel.
by Barbara Park
Challenged – encourages disobedience.
by R. L. Stine
Challenged – portrays supernatural themes and violence, and encourages disobedience.
by J. K. Rowling
Challenged – depicts witchcraft and magic, although the series promotes friendship, courage, and the battle between good and evil.
How Can You Celebrate Banned Books Week?
- Pick up a banned or challenged book from BCPL or any library and celebrate your right to read freely.
- Join book clubs or discussion groups that focus on banned books to explore their themes and impact on society.
- Visit BCPL or any public library to be a champion of intellectual freedom.
- Use social media and #BannedBooksWeek to share your thoughts on the importance of intellectual freedom and the books that have inspired you.
Visit BCPL or any public library during Banned Books Week and celebrate this fundamental right!
Carrie Herrmann is the Executive Director at BCPL and an advocate for intellectual freedom.
For more information:
Wait…why was that book banned? by Stella Childress
Intellectual Freedom by Carrie Herrmann
BCPL’s Banned Books Week video