Banned Books Week: Just Say No to Censorship

FORBIDDEN: theme of banned books week 2012So, this may seem pretty obvious, but here at the UGL, we like books. Like, a lot. In fact, we like them so much, we think you should have access to any book you want—especially for educational and informational purposes. If it’s not at the UGL or one of UIUC’s other libraries, we’ll work to find it for you at another I-Share library or through Interlibrary Loan—or even the public libraries in town. Our Mission Statement (part of the Undergraduate Library Vision, Mission and Core Values) even says ,“The Undergraduate Library will encourage engagement with information and technology in its various forms…”

However, not all people agree that unlimited access to information is a good thing, especially when it comes to children, high schoolers and even some college students. For decades, parents, community groups, school advisory boards and individuals have challenged various books and their places in classrooms and libraries. Claims of exposure to inappropriate material, counter-culture ideas, anti-religious sentiments and explicit language or sexuality have all been raised as reasons to keep students from reading certain books and publications. This isn’t a thing from the past, either… Books are still routinely being challenged and banned today.

While these concerns should be listened to, the more important issue is usually not so much the content, but adults’ inability to discuss the content in an open manner with students and children, so censoring the material becomes easier. Free access to information is an essential mission of libraries, and every year, we celebrate this mission with Banned Books Week, highlighting the books (usually very popular items) that have been challenged, banned or censored throughout the country. The hope is to A) bring awareness to this situation; B) encourage people to read the entire book before they decide it needs to be censored; and C) start conversations between educators/parents and students on the controversial material and issues, rather than sweeping those things under the proverbial rug. (This year, Banned Books Week is Sept. 30-Oct. 6, but we recommend reading any of these titles year round.)

It’s not all doom and gloom, though! Banned Books Week is celebrating its 30th Birthday this year, and according to the American Library Association, it deserves a huge cake:

The books featured during Banned Books Week have all been targeted with removal or restrictions in libraries and schools. While books have been and continue to be banned, part of the Banned Books Week celebration is the fact that, in a majority of cases, the books have remained available. This happens only thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, students, and community members who stand up and speak out for the freedom to read.

Take a minute this week to reflect on some of your favorite books—from childhood, high school, college—it doesn’t matter. Then, check out some of the lists (including challenged classics, lists by decade, and challenged authors) of most commonly banned and challenged books. What you find might surprise you. How many banned books have you read? Tell us in the comments—we’d love to hear from you!

Coming Thursday: A list of the UGL graduate assistant’s favorite banned books.

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