Banned Books in America: Really?

This week is “Banned Book Week” as proclaimed by the American Library Association. The ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom sells Banned Book paraphernalia and maintains lists of “banned” books on their website. The problem I have with this whole “Banned Book Week” begins with the broad definition of a challenged/banned book — a book which has been challenged or removed from a library or course reading list. Really, there is little at stake in preventing challenges/bans in the USA. One can always find the “banned” book in another library system, or in a local or online bookseller.

While the ALA’s concern to keep material available to all is commendable, the Read A Banned Book! exhortations which filled social media early this week are overdone. There are some countries where reading a banned book is not a mildly rebellious act, but a death-defying act. I’m not sure how the ALA’s week of hype really helps us understand this. In my mind it downgrades the issue, making it into a bit of a joke. I’ve read loads of banned books, and so have you. Just look at the lists if you’ve any doubt about that. How do we start to understand the reality of banned books globally?

Another blogger (from a non-North American viewpoint) pointed out that while challenging/banning books is not an effective method of keeping books out of the public eye, ignoring them is. What books do we ignore? They are effectively banned as they are not included in library collections or in school curriculum in the first place. How do we pay more attention to ignored works?

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