Libraries Keep the Lights On: Celebrate Banned Books Week 2019

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You may have encountered a book every once in a while that you disliked or was counter to your beliefs, but would it ever occur to you to try and prevent others from reading it? 

Most people think that book banning isn't a problem in the United States, but attempts at censorship don’t only happen in other countries. In 2018, the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) recorded 347 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services. Most challenges to library resources in 2018 focused on materials and programs associated with issues of concern to those in the gay, lesbian, transgender, and queer communities, most notably drag queen story hours and books affirming transgender youth, like Alex Gino’s George.

Of the 483 books that were challenged or banned in 2018, the following are the top 11 most frequently challenged:

  • George, by Alex Gino
  • A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, by Jill Twiss, illustrated by E. G. Keller
  • Captain Underpants series, written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey
  • The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
  • Drama, written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
  • Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
  • This One Summer, by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
  • Skippyjon Jones series, written and illustrated by Judy Schachner
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
  • This Day in June, by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Kristyna Litten
  • Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan

Eleven books were chosen for OIF's Most-Challenged Books list in 2018 instead of the usual 10, because numbers 10 and 11 in the list were tied for the final position. Both books were burned by a religious activist in Orange City, Iowa, in October to protest the city’s OC Pride event. OIF expanded the list to include both, in order to spotlight the repressive intolerance exemplified by the act of book burning and to remember that “he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself” (John Milton, Areopagitica). 

September 22-28 is Banned Books Week, the annual awareness campaign that celebrates the freedom to read. The event brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular. This year’s theme is “Censorship Leaves Us in the Dark: Keep the Light On.” And with challenges on the rise, it's more important than ever to draw attention to censorship in order to keep the light of learning alive. 

Check this Banned Books Week event calendar to find an event near you. You can also participate virtually by joining the Dear Banned Author letter-writing campaign or the Stand for the Banned Read-out.

The Dear Banned Author letter-writing campaign encourages readers to reach out to banned or challenged authors via letters, emails, and tweets. The program aims to raise awareness of books that are threatened with censorship and ignite discussions about the essential access to a variety of library materials. Authors have also shared fan letters as support when there's a public challenge to their books. Printable postcards and author mailing addresses can be found on the Dear Banned Author webpage. Eligible tweets to or about banned and challenged authors with the hashtag #DearBannedAuthor will be entered into a drawing to win Banned Books Week materials. 

Readers and libraries can also join the annual Stand for the Banned Read-out which invites readers to videotape themselves reading banned books or talking about censorship. Videos are highlighted on the Banned Books Week YouTube channel.

Follow the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom and Banned Books Week on Twitter and Facebook. There's also a Celebrating Banned Books Week Facebook Group.

Learn more at ALA's Banned Books Week website or bannedbooksweek.org.

Banned Books Week is sponsored by: American Booksellers Association, American Library Association, Association of University Presses, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Dramatists Legal Defense Fund, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Freedom to Read Foundation, Index on Censorship, National Coalition Against Censorship, National Council of Teachers of English, People for the American Way Foundation.