In an era when children can see just about anything on their cellphones, there are still hundreds of attempts to ban books each year.
According to the American Library Association, 275 books were challenged in 2015 and 11,000 books have been challenged since the inception of Banned Books Week in 1982. “Challenged” means that someone made a attempt to remove or restrict a book from school and public libraries across the country.
The ALA believes the actual number of banned books is dramatically higher as it estimates only as few as 10-20% of challenged books actually get reported.
The 34th annual Banned Books Week, which runs through Sunday hopes to draw attention to the effects of censorship with initiatives across the country.
According to the ALA, most of the books being challenged today concern people of color, religion, and the LGBT community, which is why the theme this year is diversity. It aims to highlight books and authors that represent minority communities.
“Banned Books Week is important because all people should have the right to freedom to seek and express ideas even if they’re unpopular,” said Michelle Gohr, librarian at Arizona State University’s Fletcher Library.
The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom has released a Top 10 Most Frequently Challenged books list since 2001 many of which have been dominated by popular books such as “Harry Potter,” “To Kill a Mockingbird”, and “Fifty Shades of Grey.” The books have been challenged for many different reasons including for being sexually explicit, containing offensive language or having a certain religious viewpoint.
“While I know that books used to be banned, it is both surprising and stunning to believe it is still happening in 2016,” said Janet Bechdel, a Santa Monica, CA resident who says she enjoys reading shunned topics.
The history on book banning goes back to 212 B.C. when Chinese emperor Shih Huang Ti burned all the books in his kingdom so history could be said to have begun with him. Since then, thousands of books have been banned and burned throughout the world.
“Books can and do have a profound and important effect on life and our way of living, so educating others on the dangers of censorship is important not only for schools and libraries, but for the entire country,” said Gohr.
The ALA created the week in an effort to promote the public’s intellectual freedom, right to read and to raise awareness for challenged and banned books.
“In the age of the internet, we sometimes imagine that censorship is obsolete, but in fact, it continues and may be increasing in schools where there is no longer a librarian,” said James LaRue, director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.
Libraries throughout the country are holding activities and events to engage readers in fun and creative ways.
Arizona State University’s Fletcher Library has a display where a variety of banned books are covered in paper bags that list that reason the book is banned and students have to correctly guess which book it is based on clues.
“As an academic library, we take our roles as educators very seriously and strive to challenge and expose students to new ideas and thoughts, but we love to do so in fun and interesting ways because learning can and should be exciting,” Gohr said.
In Santa Monica, the public library is holding an event encouraging readers to read a portion of a banned book so they can record the read and post it on YouTube.
“Defending the right to read, celebrating our ability both to send and receive information, is one of the highest values of librarianship and is vital to the nation and its democracy,” said LaRue.
The ALA says the practice of banning books is a form of censorship that takes from political, legal, religious and moral motives so this week is very important.
“When the banning of books becomes something the public no longer tracks or notices, censorship is complete,” said LaRue.