Stand for the Banned

One of the many things we should no longer have to talk about in 2017—along with Nazism, white supremacy, and the right to use birth control—is book banning. Yet book censorship complaints rose by 17 percent in 2016, according to the Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF).

OIF is the branch of the American Library Association (ALA) that keeps track of the public censorship of books. They are also the sponsor of Banned Books Week, an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Each year OIF compiles a list of the Top Ten Most Challenged books, using information from media reports as well as information submitted directly from libraries and schools.

Not only did requests to ban books increase this year, but more of the books people identified as ban-worthy were actually prohibited by the institutions who received title challenges. A title challenge is essentially a request made by a person or group to a specific library, school, or other institution to remove a book. Banning occurs when the book is actually removed from that institution. Typically, only about 10 percent of challenged titles are banned, but in 2016 that percentage rose to 50 percent. Even scarier, OIF estimates that 82-97 percent of challenges are never reported at all, so it’s difficult to know the full extent of the pressure on librarians and teachers to censor controversial subject matter.

The most frequent reasons for censorship attempts in the last several years are “sexually explicit” material and LGBTQ themes, along with offensive language and violence. In 2016 not one of the top ten books was challenged specifically for its religious views, but that description does not take into account how often challenges about sexuality and LGBTQ issues are actually based on religious concerns. All of the top five books last year (This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki; Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier; George by Alex Gino; I Am Jazz  by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas; and Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan) were challenged for LGBTQ content. Three others drove complaints for being sexually explicit.

In 2015, however, four books made the top ten list for their “religious viewpoint” including I Am Jazz, Beyond Magenta, and Nasreen’s Secret School, while (my personal favorite) the Holy Bible drew challenges for “religious viewpoint” and “violence.” A fifth book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, was challenged that year for “atheism.”

In honor of Banned Books Week (Sept. 24 – Sept. 30), please support the value of open access to information and freedom of expression by reading one of the banned books from this year’s list. Or post on social media about your favorite banned or almost banned book. The ALA is also sponsoring a Twitter tournament and a YouTube contest to get the word out about the power of books and the dangers of censorship.

In Trump’s America, as there are more crackdowns on protests and the truth is no longer valued in the White House, it’s more important than ever to “Stand for the Banned.”