This week marks the 30th installment of Banned Books Week when the American Library Association (ALA) celebrates the freedom to read, the importance of the First Amendment, and highlights cases of censorship in schools and libraries across the United States.
According to Herbert N. Foerstel, the body of law related to book banning deals almost exclusively with public school censorship rather than public library censorship. In addition, the case law concentrates on the authority of school officials to control curriculum. In his book, “Banned in the USA:A Reference Guide to Book Censorhsip in Schools and Public Libraries,” Foerstel said, “School boards are as often the victim as the villain in book banning incidents. Sometimes school officials exercise administrative authority to repudiate censorship attempts by religious or political pressure groups. Other times, they invoke seemingly arbitrary authority to impose their own taste or ideology on the local curriculum or school library.”
The ALA began Banned Books Week (BBW) thirty years ago to emphasize the right to create or access information even if it does not conform to popular thought or opinion. The books that make the banned books list are those that have come under threat of banning. In most cases, the attempts were unsuccessful due to the efforts of librarians, teachers, booksellers and concerned citizens.
Banned in Years Past
In her September 27, 2011 post for The Washington Post titled, “Banned books around the United States: What are we afraid of?” Melissa Bell reminded readers of books that were banned in years past. According to Bell, “Thirty years ago, the books that were banned encouraged ‘pro-communist behavior’ (“1984” by George Orwell), inflicted ‘psychological damage to the positive integration process’ (“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee) ‘used God’s name in vain’ (“Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck) and implied ‘man is little more than an animal’ (“Lord of the Flies” by William Golding).”
Banned Books Week 2011
The motto for this year’s Banned Books Week epitomizes the spirit of the event, “Think for yourself and let others to the same.” That message has not been embraced by everyone as evidenced by the almost 5,000 censorship challenges waged over the past ten years, most of which came from parents.
Based on the 2010-2011 challenges, sex and drugs seem to be of particular concern. International Business times reported on some of the books that made this year’s list in a September 27, 2011 post titled, “Banned Books Week 2011: Surprising List of Controversial Reads.” But sex and drugs weren’t the only topics under attack. This year’s list of banned books included:
- “Water for Elephants” challenged because of sex scenes
- “Twilight” teen falls in love with a vampire
- “Nickel and Dimed” the challenge of living on minimum wage
- “Lush” a teen must deal with an alcoholic father
- “Revolutionary Voices” an anthology of essays by homosexual youth
- “Crank” a teen becomes a drug addict
- “And Tango Makes Three” two male penguins raise a chick
Making the List
The ALA compiles its Banned Books List from reports that it receives from libraries, schools, newspapers, and individuals on attempts made to ban books in localities across the country. The process of gathering data on challenges is not a perfect one and the ALA admits that research indicates that there are as many as four to five unreported cases for every case that is reported. All challenges are kept confidential and only the book title is made public, not the town or institution from where it originated.
Banned Books Features
This year the ALA added more features for readers to use to access content. If you are thinking of reading any of the banned books but cannot decide which it will be, you can see, hear and download excerpts of books being read on a dedicated YouTube channel. If you want to know more about where censorship attempts have been reported you can track them on a Google map at the Banned Books Week site.