Yesterday marked the start of Banned Books Week, the annual tradition of celebrating books that have been banned or challenged due to their controversial nature. For FIRE, this Banned Books Week is especially exciting as it is the first year in which FIRE is celebrating as an official member of the Banned Books Week Coalition.
While book banning may seem like an archaic censorship tool, the American Library Association tracked 347 challenges to 483 books (some challenges were to multiple books) at libraries, schools, and universities in 2018. 2018 even saw an instance of book burning outside of a public library. At the university level, FIRE has had to step in multiple times to defend students’ right to access literature and professors’ right to assign controversial works.
At the university level, FIRE has had to step in multiple times to defend students’ right to access literature and professors’ right to assign controversial works.
The rationale behind book banning (namely, the false belief that suppressing uncomfortable ideas will cause them to magically disappear from people’s minds) can also be seen in attempts to censor student journalists through newspaper thefts and administrative censorship, as well as attempts to disinvite controversial speakers from campus. As a coalition member, we will use our experience to raise awareness about the ills of censorship and the positive effects of allowing access to literature.
When students reach college, they will meet folks from all walks of life with different opinions, experiences, and backgrounds. This can be a difficult environment to adapt to, considering that college is the first time many students are living on their own and directing their own educational experience. Many of the books featured in the ALA’s list of top challenged books from the past few years — from “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, to “George” by Alex Gino, to “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini — depict experiences that many readers might not have the opportunity to learn about in their everyday lives. Having the choice to learn about ideas and cultures through books can prime students to be resilient and thoughtful participants in the campus marketplace of ideas.
So join FIRE in celebrating Banned Books Week. Challenge yourself to read a banned book you may have never considered, exchange banned books with your friends, or attend one of the many events celebrating banned books across the country. Let us and the Coalition know how you’re celebrating using the #BannedBooksWeek tag on social media!