On many arts and literature newsgroups, the main topic of discussion this week is all about the ALA’s Banned Books Week. Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event which celebrates the freedom to read and the importance of the United States First Amendment. Always held during the last week of September, BBW highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship. This form and attempt of censorship is something very familiar as well with many newsgroups on USENET.
Launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, BBW was created primarily by bookstores and libraries, headed by The American Library Association.
More than a thousand books have been challenged since then. People have challenged books that they say are too offensive for one reason or another: sex, violence, profanity, slang, racial or religion for the most part. Their targets range from books that explore the latest problems to classic and beloved works of American literature.
Some of the mainstream titles that have been banned are:
- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
- Forever – Judy Blume
- The Catcher In The Rye – J.D. Salinger
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J.K. Rowling
- In The Night Kitchen – Maurice Sendak
- Beloved – Toni Morrison
Others include: “To Kill a Mockingbird.” “Charlotte’s Web.” “The Sun Also Rises.” “As I Lay Dying.” “Kim.” “Winnie-the-Pooh.”
Over the years, groups and communities have taken it upon themselves to determine what books are worthy of being stacked on library shelves and what should be kept from the public. Many libraries and bookstores have answered back that access to such works, no matter what their content, is one of the precious traditions that should be defended.
In response, The American Library Association’s designated an annual Banned Books Week – now in its 28th year – to answer this cause. Many books challenged by communities as being inappropriate for public dissemination or that were targeted for banning have survived because of BBW as it brings librarians, teachers, booksellers and the media to rally and create public opposition to such moves.
Much like the freedoms of USENET, intellectual freedom, while not an explicit freedom guaranteed by the United States First Amendment, sits at the heart of our democracy; it is the freedom to access information and express ideas—even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular. Banned Books Week stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them.