Once Again it is Banned Books Week

Once Again it is Banned Books Week

Once again it is “Banned Books Week”.  Once again libraries around the country grab the ALA Banned Books Kits from the Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF) and throw up a display. And, once again, it digs at the sensibilities of many librarians and Intellectual Freedom advocates.

Why?  Several reasons.  1) “celebrating banned books” both gives the impression these books have actually been banned and strips away the discussion of censorship as it applies to information as a whole; and 2) this week should stop focusing on books alone.

The article Please Stop “Celebrating” Banned Books Week by Kelly Jensen, sums up these notions perfectly. Basically, the articles states that this week shouldn’t just be about banned books, but all of Intellectual Freedom.  Jensen states,

“When we “celebrate” banned books week, we strip the context of censorship from the equation. Books are the conduit for discussion, but they aren’t the purpose. Their being banned isn’t the celebration.

 The celebration is intellectual freedom.”

The concept of Banned Books Week started in 1982. Make people aware of what is happening so they can rally for freedom. This concept and subsequent marketing plan by Judith Krug, Head of the OIF at the time, was brilliant and it worked!    This was before the internet, before 24-hour news, before social media.  36 years later and the campaign really hasn’t changed.  However the world of information did.

With the internet came more access to information in various ways through personal computers and smartphones, allowing for instant access worldwide.  There came the age of political correctness and 24 hour speculative media.  CIPA , SOPA, textbook committees, repealing Net Neutrality, universities dictating what is and isn’t appropriate in the classroom based on arbitrary standards.  So many new challenges to access to real information yet so many people not in the library and information professions don’t even realize it! Especially in the age of “Fake News”, it is time for libraries to step forward and start talking about censorship in its varying forms.

Instead of concentrating just on challenged books move to celebrating Intellectual Freedom.  The week would include challenges to books, but an Intellectual Freedom Week would address instances of

  • Net Neutrality,
  • censoring speech or speakers in the name of academia or political correctness,
  • lack of access to internet to rural and poor populations,
  • inequity of education among the classes,
  • pundits, politicians, and others promoting falsehoods and inaccurate information,

ALL the ways of restricting Intellectual Freedom.

For example, during ‘Banned Books Week” a few years ago, Colorado students and teachers protested a proposed change to the curriculum that would seriously curb the way history is taught.  These are the kinds of things librarians need to be talking about more now and year round.

Why aren’t more people supporting the fight for Net Neutrality?  They don’t see it as censorship.  They see it as business.  During this week libraries spend so much time focusing on books and instead of educating people on all the ways that censorship is growing in many sectors.  Yes, talk about books, but not to the detriment of everything else.

The mantra is “Libraries are more than just books” yet the profession clings to a book-centric discussion for Intellectual Freedom. In addition, there really aren’t many actual ‘banned books’ in the United States these days.  The books on the lists are usually challenged titles, so “Banned Books Week” itself is a misnomer.

There is the argument that “Intellectual Freedom Week” doesn’t sound as sexy or that the public doesn’t understand “Intellectual Freedom” as a statement.  Well then come up with something else or take this as an opportunity to teach them.  People need to understand ALL the ways that censorship is creeping into their lives.

Librarians are all smart and YOU know that this is about more than just books.  However, does everyone else?

Isn’t it time for a change?

Melissa Powell, MLIS
Outside Sales Consultant, TLC

Melissa has been involved in Intellectual Freedom since the late 1980s, serving as a state IFC chair 1991-1996, member of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression 1996-2001, and a supporter of the IFC, member of Freedom to Read, and every other campaign, organization, and group supporting Intellectual Freedom since then.  





Justin Larsen Larsen