The Power of Words

BlogPhoto1by Erin May

From September 24-September 30, it is Banned Books Week. What does this mean—is the library banning books? This week celebrates quite the opposite. Banned Books Week, organized by the American Library Association (ALA), celebrates “free and open access to information.”1 Even when books contain controversial or unpopular opinions and themes, individuals have the right to access and read these books. However, many individuals and institutions have challenged these books and their right to remain on shelves in schools and libraries. This contradicts the right to intellectual freedom.

Intellectual freedom is the right to access and read information from any point of view, without restrictions.2 This means that anyone should be allowed to read any book, on any topic, without worrying that they will not be allowed to do so. Censorship, or suppressing ideas that certain groups find objectionable, directly contradicts this idea. Because banning books is a form of censorship, it goes against the idea of intellectual freedom. Without this freedom, individuals cannot make their own decisions about gathering ideas to inform themselves about the world.

What is the difference between banning and challenging a book?1 A challenge occurs when a person or group attempts to restrict materials, while a ban is when the materials are actually removed from the library or school in question. While everyone may have their own opinion about what they should read, challenges and bans prevent others from accessing the materials, which threatens freedoms of speech and choice, as well as intellectual freedom.

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Books are challenged and banned for many reasons. Books for children and teenagers at school libraries are often the target of restrictions, as many parents and other adults wish to control what young people read. LGBT characters, sexual content and themes, offensive language, violence, and inappropriateness for the age group are some of the most common reasons for banning books, though there are others.3 For example, Harry Potter, the most challenged book from 2000-2009, has often been challenged for its “promotion of witchcraft.”4 Despite the prevalence of banning and challenging books, in most cases, the books have remained available; often, the surrounding controversy has made them more popular!

What can you do to celebrate Banned Books Week? Participate in the hashtag #BannedBooksWeek on social media, and check out the Okanagan College Library Facebook and Twitter accounts for banned book suggestions! You can also check out the ALA book lists and read one, or recommend one to a friend.5 Most importantly, you can stand up for banned books by understanding that everyone has the right to read!

What is your favourite books that has been challenged or banned? Tell us in the comments or tweet us @OC_Lib!‏

Sources/Further Reading:

Images from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/bannedbooksweek/ideasandresources/freedownloads

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