Banned Books Week
Banned Books Week is an annual awareness campaign promoted by the American Library Association and Amnesty International, that celebrates the freedom to read, draws attention to banned and challenged books, and highlights persecuted individuals. Held during the last week of September since 1982, the United States campaign "stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them" and the requirement to keep material publicly available so that people can develop their own conclusions and opinions. The international campaign notes individuals "persecuted because of the writings that they produce, circulate or read." Some of the events that occur during Banned Book Week are The Virtual Read-Out and The First Amendment Film Festival.
Banned Books Week was founded in 1982 by prominent First Amendment and library activist Judith Krug. Krug said that the Association of American Publishers contacted her with ideas to bring banned books "to the attention of the American public" after a "slew of books" had been banned that year. Krug relayed the information to the American Library Association's Intellectual Freedom Committee and "six weeks later we celebrated the first Banned Books Week."
Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA), the American Booksellers Association, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE), American Society of Journalists and Authors, Association of American Publishers, National Association of College Stores, and endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.
Since 2011, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) has designated the Wednesday of Banned Books Week as Banned Websites Awareness Day. Their goal is "to bring attention to the overly aggressive filtering of educational and social websites used by students and educators." In the AASL's 2012 national longitudinal survey, 94% of respondents said their school used filtering software, with the majority of blocked websites relating to social networking (88%), IM or online chatting (74%), gaming (69%), and video services like YouTube (66%). The AASL's position is that "the social aspect of learning" is important for students in the 21st century and that many schools go "beyond the requirements set forth by the Federal Communications Commission in its Child Internet Protection Act."
United States event
It has been held during the last week of September since 1982. Banned Books Week not only encourages readers to examine challenged literary works, but also promotes intellectual freedom in libraries, schools, and bookstores. Its goal is "to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society." Offering Banned Books Week kits, the ALA sells posters, buttons, and bookmarks to celebrate the event.
Many educational facilities also celebrate banned and challenged books during this week, often creating displays and programs around the awareness campaign. Additionally, various booksellers sponsor activities and events in support of Banned Books Week. Some retailers create window displays, while others go further, inviting authors of banned and challenged materials to come speak at their stores, as well as funding annual essay contests about freedom of expression. Educational facilities and booksellers also sponsor "read outs," allowing participants to read aloud passages from their favorite banned books.
Amnesty International also celebrates Banned Books Week by directing attention to individuals "persecuted because of the writings that they produce, circulate or read." Its web site documents "focus cases" annually which show individuals who have been reportedly killed, incarcerated, or otherwise harassed by national authorities around the world, and urge people to "take action" to help it in partnership with its "Urgent Action Network" by contacting authorities regarding human rights violations. They also provide updates to cases from previous years, giving a history and current status of people who have been allegedly persecuted for their writings. The cases include individuals from Azerbaijan, China, Cuba, Egypt, Gambia, Iran, Myanmar, Russia, and Sri Lanka.
Reception and criticism
The event has been praised for celebrating the freedom provided by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Public events where banned and challenged books are read aloud are commonly held to celebrate the event. The international event held by Amnesty International has also been praised for reminding people about the price that some people pay for expressing controversial views.
Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby noted that the overwhelming number of books on the list were books that were simply challenged (primarily by parents for violence, language, sexuality, or age-appropriateness), not actually removed.
Mitchell Muncy, writing in The Wall Street Journal, has alleged that the censorship being protested in the event does not exist, and that books are not banned in the United States. Camila Alire, a former president of the ALA, responded that Banned Books Week highlights "the hundreds of documented attempts to suppress access to information that take place each year across the U.S.," and that "when the library is asked to restrict access for others, that does indeed reflect an attempt at censorship."
Former ALA Councilor Jessamyn West said:
It also highlights the thing we know about Banned Books Week that we don't talk about much—the bulk of these books are challenged by parents for being age-inappropriate for children. While I think this is still a formidable thing for librarians to deal with, it's totally different from people trying to block a book from being sold at all.
Doug Archer, librarian and past chair of the ALA's Intellectual Freedom Committee, responds that such criticisms do not fairly address the threat of censorship:
The argument goes thusly. Most books on the annual ALA list of banned and challenged books were "only" challenged, never banned. Even if some were removed from libraries, they are still available for purchase in bookstores. Therefore, censorship hasn't really happened because the government hasn't banned the books. .... Just because libraries and librarians have been so good at defending the freedom of the public to read as they choose, means that we're being dishonest? No, it just means we're doing our job.
An American Christian right organization, called Focus on the Family regularly challenges Banned Books Week, claiming that books are not really banned, and that libraries' policies are anti-family. Tom Minnery, vice president of public policy, said, "The ALA has irresponsibly perpetrated the 'banned' books lie for too long...Nothing is 'banned,' but every year this organization attempts to intimidate and silence any parent, teacher or librarian who expresses concern about the age-appropriateness of sexually explicit or violent material for schoolchildren." Candi Cushman, Focus on the Family's education analyst, said that "parents have every right and responsibility to object to their kids receiving sexually explicit and pro-gay literature without their permission, especially in a school setting"; pointing out that the children's book And Tango Makes Three, about same-sex penguin parents, was one of the books at the top of ALA's most-challenged list, she criticized the event for its "promotion of homosexuality to...6- or 7-year-old [children] against their will." The anti-gay group Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) has similarly criticized the ALA for not using the event to champion ex-gay books or books opposing same-sex marriage in the United States.
Most recently Banned Books Week was criticized by Ruth Graham in Slate who thinks that the rhetoric surrounding the event often conflates issues such as banning books in a public library versus a school library. She also believes it confuses failure to include material in curricula to overall availability in a library. She believes, while we may want to highlight cases of censorship, that we should be celebrating the books having won the war since the overall number of actual censorship events are minimal.
In response, Maddie Crum of The Huffington Post writes in defense of Banned Books Week. She states that the celebration of Banned Books Week keeps us conscious of how the right to free expression is not easily won, as we can see around the world where the war for free expression is still being waged. She believes that Banned Books Week is a reminder of the work that organizations such as the ALA do to help train librarians to keep us from sliding from challenging books to banning them.
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- Banned Books Week, by ALA and ABFFE
- Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read, by ALA
- Rhode Island College LibGuide – Banned Books Week
- The Top 100 Banned/Challenegd Books from 2000–2009, by ALA
- Interactive Website about Banned Books in America, by Robert E. Kennedy Library, Cal Poly