By Syd Beck
What is Banned Book Week?
In a time where nothing can be wiped off the internet, our libraries are our oldest, strongest tool for academics; and they’re under attack. Dating way back to the 1600s, governments or positions of power have practiced the art of banning books from public education or accessibility. It was only in 1982 that the American Library Association, or ALA, had their Intellectual Freedom Committee establish Banned Book Week in America to preserve the rights of those authors attacked by the ban.
Despite this event happening annually, it is growing increasingly important for students to participate due to impending legislation and regulations regarding books with “questionable” media. In just the beginning of 2023 alone, Pen America, a non-profit organization dedicated to banned book awareness, has already seen 1477 books challenged for banning. That is a 28% increase from the prior years before. Most of these banned books revolve around Black or LGBTQ+ voices due to the conservative outcry of “indoctrination.” These efforts are said to be attempting to stop the indoctrination of students but instead, prevent them from a full limitless education and the right to form their own opinions.
Of the reported book challenges in years before, 58% of targeted books are for public educational settings like school libraries and classrooms. But stranger than that, 41% of challenged materials were targeted at public libraries. This is no longer an issue of parental rights toward their child’s education but rather a battle of censorship and your right to free reading.
This year the ALA has chosen the theme “Let Freedom Read” for Banned Book Week. Libraries, including our own, intend to make known the dangers that occur to our right to speak and think freely, and it starts with our right to read. It is becoming more and more important for students to participate. Catherine Paolillo, CI’s Outreach and Engagement Librarian, says “There are so many challenges to books happening across the country in school libraries and public libraries that it’s important for libraries to speak up against censorship and be a louder voice than the one trying to suppress those voices.”
Why Should You Care?
Only 1% of those who are challenging the banning of books are brought up by students themselves. Students’ voices aren’t being heard regarding their education and what matters in their academia, letting the unexpected masses hold more say. These are not just affecting books in your classroom but include some of your favorite works like “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Harry Potter.” It’s also stifling the voices of important movements and histories like “The Hate U Give” and “Occupied.” Narrow minded people with control wish to hide all creative fictional or nonfictional work that does not apply to a specifically narrow way of thinking, creating a narrative dominated by only one avenue of thought. If scholars cannot call into account the views and perspectives of those in communities beyond ours, how are they to grow?
These are the types of evidence and concerns that lead to authoritarian rule. If one group has so much say in even the books Americans decide to read, then who is to say they do not control the entire scope of their education? To let these book bans stand is to allow them the power over personal freedoms, leading to a society reminiscent of ”1984,” another banned book title.
How can you Participate/ What can I do?
The best thing you can do to help with this issue is stay informed. As students, you understand the power that comes with reading. Give these banned authors the attention they deserve and a platform beyond libraries in which to share their voices. Both the ALA as well as CI’s own librarian have crafted several good lists of Banned Book titles up for challenge this year for students to read. The ALA recommends a variety of things beyond just reading these books and participating in the week itself, including streaming Banned Book Week seminar, writing letters to authors and editors, and most importantly, speaking out about it.
CI itself has thrown a variety of different events for its support. In CI’s previous Banned Book Week event, Dr. Serna, CI Chicano Studies Professor, gave a very insightful lecture about decolonizing the mind in relation to Banned Book Week in the 21st century. In this lecture, Serna acknowledges the 2011 tragedy of Tucson, where Arizona’s famous school district faced a demolition of its Ethnic Studies Department by a state legislator and its relation to impending governmental oversight on education nowadays. “This is an ideological attack on future generations,” he says. “We must fight back.”
Following this, events will also be held next week. On Oct. 10 from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., there will be a faculty panel including the Dean of Libraries, Curtis Asher, and several ethnic study department heads regarding Banned Book Week’s censorship fears and preservation of intellectual freedom held in John Spoor Broome Library’s Exhibit Hall. The faculty encourages students to join the fight to preserve the voices of these important historical authors because, at the end of the day, these books are not a reflection of politics but of people.