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Celebrating Banned Books Week


Button for 2023 Banned books Week Let Freedom Read

We are currently celebrating Banned Books Week, which runs October 1-7th, 2023. Banned Books Week started in 1982, during a time when book challenges were on the rise. Now, in 2023, book challenges are even more prevalent. This year's official tagline is "Let Freedom Read," and the LeVar Burton is the honorary chair. The picture above is a button that I received at work to wear on my lanyard to promote the week.


What is the difference between a challenge and a ban? A challenge is when a person or institution proposes that a book be removed from a school or library. There are many more challenges than actual bans. Anyone can submit a challenge to a library, and in many cases schools, even if they don't attend or have a child who attends. The book is flagged and the case is considered.


The people who consider if a challenged book should be banned could be a librarian, the local government, or a school board, it depends on where the case is being heard. If a book gets banned it is removed from the institution in which it has been challenged. For example, a book may be banned in a particular school district, but it might still be available at a local library or in a local bookstore. It is localized and does not mean that it is banned across the United States


So what's the big deal? I get this questions a lot when I work at my indie bookstore job. This topic has caused so much confusion, especially when it gets mixed in with discussions of what should be taught in school. There are a few big problems with this recent uptick in book challenges.


First, it tends to be a relatively small, yet very vocal, group of people that are pushing for book challenges. They do not necessarily reflect the broader community, even in conservative leaning areas.


Second, the types of books that are being challenged tend to focus on themes that include LGBTQI or characters of color. Additionally, any books that are deemed unpatriotic or that show American history in an unflattering light. Attempts to ban these books are attempts to shape the narrative and push back against inclusion. Last week, I wrote about why we need diverse books and types of recent challenges attempt to make libraries less diverse. The narrative in the news is that book challenges are to "protect children," but I would encourage you to read and explore many of the books that are being challenged and see if you agree that the narrative pushed is in alignment with what is actually happening. I sure don't!


Third, it sets the tone for people to vilify books that they haven't even read. Many of the people who are open about challenging books have admitted to not reading the whole work of what they are challenging, simply cherry-picking the parts in which they object. Stories are about context. Furthermore, this leads to other people, who have not read the book at all, finding objection to a book based on the rumor that it is in some way objectionable. I encounter this every day at work and it is maddening.


We celebrate banned book week to bring awareness to books that have been challenged or banned. The idea is to read these books and cultivate your own opinion. It is to bring awareness to this issue and the idea that people should be free to read whatever they like and think however they like. This freedom is sacred.

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