Banned Books - Then and Now

Photo Caption: Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association

Banned Books - Then and Now

Blog post by Chris
Friday, September 14, 2018

Guest Blog by Vija

Although libraries work to provide open access to information year-round, we take time every September during Banned Books Week to highlight the dangers of censorship and to celebrate the power of words and stories. If you're out and about visiting Austin Public Library's branch locations, you might see a cool display featuring some of the books that have been banned over the years - over at the Ruiz Branch, you can even pose for a "mug shot" with your own banned book! 

And yet, you might wonder: What is the deal with banned books, anyway? Does that even happen in this day and age? Although there is a long history of banned books in the U.S., you might think that we've moved past this practice. Sadly, no. Book challenges happen nearly every day, all over the country, in public libraries, K-12 school media centers, and university libraries. The American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom supports libraries facing challenges, and last year they tracked more than 350 challenges to library materials and services, including more than 400 books.* What's really worrisome is that the ALA notes a high percentage of "silent challenges" that may never be officially reported - as many as 82-97%. That's an exceptionally loud silence.

*Check out the ALA's 2017 infographic about censorship.

The ALA website has published lists of the Top Ten Most Challenged Books since 2001, and also offers older lists of frequently challenged books going back decades. There are some "classics" that reappear over time, like To Kill a Mockingbird or Brave New World, but there’s also a high percentage of newer "books with diverse content", including “content by or about people of color, LGBT people and/or people with disabilities”. In a diverse city like Austin, these are our neighbors’ stories, and they deserve our respect and attention. Libraries include these stories in their collections to make sure that everyone’s voice can be heard.

Break the silence and show stories matter to you, no matter the source! Here’s how:
- Choose a book from our recommended list (below) and discuss it with friends
- Attend the Aural Literature event at the Terrazas Branch on September 26th 
- Join the fun at The Library Foundation’s Banned Books Bash on September 27th 
- Visit the “Art from the Streets” exhibit at the Central Library between now and October 14th
- Drop in on the Austin Public Library’s monthly Adult Story Hour (locations and dates vary)
- Film a short video of you reading from your favorite banned book and submit it to the Banned Books Week YouTube Channel as part of the Office of Intellectual Freedom Virtual Read-out
- Participate in the ALA's "Dear Banned Author..." campaign, and send a postcard to an author whose book has been banned to share some words of support