Controversial books are nothing new, but the incidence of book challenges and bans has increased substantially in recent years.
This week marks the American Library Association’s annual Banned Books Week, and this year’s theme is “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.”
The ALA has conducted polling on the issue that illustrates that 71% of Americans oppose efforts to remove books from public libraries, and 67% oppose efforts to remove books from school libraries.
Nancy Bell is the readers’ advisory librarian at the Oshkosh Public Library. She said while Wisconsin has not seen as many challenges as in other parts of the country, their commitment to the freedom to read is the same.
“It was so important to bring these to the forefront,” said Bell, “because we have seen across the country that this past year was record breaking in the worst way for challenged books and banned books, and so we really wanted to make an official statement saying, ‘We also, as a public library, support these values and the freedom to read.’ “
More information on the ALA’s initiative to fight censorship is online at uniteagainstbookbans.org.
Within the ALA is the Office for Intellectual Freedom, where they’ve been tracking book censorship for decades.
OIF Director Deborah Caldwell-Stone said organized political groups that advocate censorship are involved in efforts to influence school boards and library boards, sending motivated voices to speak to elected officials.
Office holders facing book challenges often end up listening to the people speaking out at public meetings, but when opponents of censorship make their voices heard, things can go differently.
“When there are others in the room speaking out against censorship,” said Caldwell-Stone, “speaking out in favor of having a wide variety of books available for young people to read, for the community to read, then we often see efforts to remove books fail.”
Caldwell-Stone said writing an email to the library board or sending a letter with another supporter to be read at a meeting may also give busy people a way to make their voices heard.
Over her career, Caldwell-Stone said she has seen the kinds of books that are challenged expand.
She said books that contain profanity or coming-of-age stories with accounts of first sexual experiences have often been challenged, but in recent years challenges have taken on additional political dimensions.
“When you look at the books that are challenged,” said Caldwell-Stone, “you’re seeing books that have no sexual content at all but advance different narratives around our history with racism or the lives and experiences of LGBTQIA persons.”
The ALA estimates that between 82% and 97% of book challenges go unreported.
This story was written by Brett Peveto, a producer at Public News Service, where this story first appeared.