Exercise your FREADom!

This year’s Banned Books Week is almost over – but there’s still time to learn about it, and to get your hands on a dangerous book. Here’s the low-down on what the week is all about, where you can find more information, and what you can do to get involved.

discover what you've been missing.

Artwork courtesy of American Library Association.

Banned Books Week is a 7-day event organized every year by the American Library Association to promote wider awareness of censorship and intellectual freedom. Basically, you have the right to read books of all kinds, and librarians, teachers, journalists, and other folks across the country want you to have access to those books. When schools, communities, or individuals attempt to  restrict access to books by banning or censoring them, that makes us very unhappy. You might think book banning is a thing of the past, or something that only happens in dystopian novels, but people attempt to take books off shelves even now. For instance, just this month a school board in Ohio tried to remove Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye from curriculums, claiming that its content was pornographic and unsuitable for school-aged children. According to the ALA, between the years 2000 and 2009, there were a reported 5,099 challenges to books in the United States. Banning books is a very real phenomenon.

If the idea of being denied the right to choose what you read riles you up, what can you do about it? For starters, you can read our blog post from last year on the subject, or visit the official Banned Books Week website to get broader information about book challenges in the United States. If you want to know whether there have ever been book burnings at UIUC – your friendly neighborhood QB has the answer to that. You can find an event to attend, or stage your own virtual read-out where you record yourself reading aloud from a challenged book.

Possibly the most enjoyable way to celebrate Banned Books Week is to check out a banned book from the library and be happy that in most cases, attempts to remove books from shelves are unsuccessful. The ALA released a list of the 10 most challenged books of 2012 – and wouldn’t you know,  all of them are available to you from your own UIUC library. Click on a link below to be taken to a book’s page in the catalog, where you can request it and then take it home with you.

  1. The Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  3. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
  4. 50 Shades of Grey by E. L. James
  5. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
  6. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  7. Looking for Alaska by John Green
  8. Scary Stories series by Alvin Schwartz
  9. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  10. Beloved by Toni Morrison

If those top 10 books don’t float your boat (or if you’ve read them all already!), you can also peruse the UGL’s banned book suggested reading list or our banned book Pinterest board. Have a favorite banned book that you don’t see on any of these lists? Mention it in the comments so others can share in the enjoyment of the free exchanged of ideas.

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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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