Banned Books Week Worth Celebrating


Celebrating Banned Books Week

I bet you’re a reader. Maybe you love to read, or you think reading is important, or at the very least, you like reading even though it’s very difficult to find the time. (We’ve all been there.) You have books that you’ve read multiple times and other books you’ve always meant to read but just haven’t gotten to yet. Some books are part of who you are- like the one you always recommend to friends and family, the one that reminds you of your high school days, the one that helped you through your dad’s death or the first year of parenthood. There are books you love that your best friend can’t stand and there’s that book your brother recommended that you thought was just awful. Your reading list is as unique to you as your fingerprints: a reflection of who you are, what you enjoy, and what you are curious about. With each book you read, you make a choice about what is important to you.

As librarians, we take that very seriously. From September 24-30, the libraries in Waukesha County, along with libraries across the country, celebrated Banned Books Week to support and bring attention to our right to choose books freely for ourselves. Since its inception in 1982, Banned Books Week has reminded us that while not every book is right for every reader, each of us has the right to decide for ourselves what to read, listen to, or view. The American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) has recorded more than 10,000 book challenges since 1990, including 323 in 2016 alone. Challenges are formal, written complaints requesting a book be removed from library shelves or school curriculum, usually due to protests against the book’s content. The most challenged and/or restricted reading materials have been books for children. While parents certainly have the right to monitor what their children read, these challenges request that materials are completely removed from public use, thereby restricting the access of others. This is censorship, which denies our freedom as individuals to choose and think for ourselves.

Banned Books Week because slogan from ALA: "Because Words Have Power."

Is reading dangerous? Absolutely. Reading is a threat to our comfort zones because every book asks us to step outside of our world and reexamine what we thought we knew. One of the most commonly banned books, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, says it best: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” Books give us the chance to ask questions, listen when someone speaks, and form our own opinions. In today’s world, we need more of that opportunity, not less. I invite you to celebrate your freedom to read during Banned Books Week by stopping at the library and checking out a banned book. You never know whom you might meet or how it might change your life.

A version of this article appeared in the Waukesha Freeman, the Oconomowoc Enterprise, the Daily Jefferson County Union, and the Watertown Times. We will be sharing those pieces here on our website a few weeks after each piece has been printed.