What are banned books, and why do they matter more than ever?

This week is national banned book week. .. What are banned books?

Banned books are a list of books that have been removed from some schools and libraries because the content of those book is considered objectionable. So yeah, it’s censorship. Believe it or not censorship was not invented by Twitter! It wasn’t until the 1980’s that the supreme court ruled that school officials had no right to ban books on the grounds of content. (ALA)

Back in the Jim Crow era south. Libraries were segregated, and there were restrictions on kinds of materials were allowed to be in the libraries that served African Americans.

In this modern world of social media cancel culture, I fear we may be headed toward more censorship and not less.

I’m not saying that individuals shouldn’t be mindful of their media intake, on the contrary, there are books and movies I have avoided because I knew they would have a negative impact on me, but it is the height of hubris to say that NO ONE should be able to read a book, or a tweet, watch a film, or even play a video game because of your negative experience. the world does not revolve around you!

I want to make it clear that when it comes to children, parents have every right to decide that a certain kind of media is not right for their child. One of the important jobs of parents is to monitor your kid’s media intake to insure they are not being confused by a message for which they are not intellectually prepared. That being said, you have no right to decide what media other parents choose to expose their children too.

If school and public libraries remove everything that anyone might find offensive, there would be nothing left on the shelves. A truly worthwhile library will have something that will challenge everyone’s preconceptions.

Even today, books are being banned from schools and libraries for many reasons. Most likely you’ve been reading banned books your whole life and never even knew it!

All these books were banned for the following reasons:

  • Winnie The Pooh – for depicting talking animals
  • Where The Wild Things Are – for being too frightening
  • Harry Potter – for witchcraft
  • Diary of Anne Frank – for being depressing

Everything is offensive to someone! The ALA was silent on the Dr. Seuss controversy last year. I have even seen my fellow librarians take part in censorship, saying that some voices need to be silenced (Farkas) When we in libraries ignore our responsibility to free speech and start playing a game of ‘this speech is more important than that speech’ we are taking part in a very dangerous game.

I became a librarian because I wanted to do something to stop the world of 1984 or Brave New World. Now I’m starting to wonder if it’s too late. Can I really be the only librarian left who cares about censorship and intellectual freedom?

It is perfectly possible for a man to be out of prison and yet not free — to be under no physical constraint and yet to be a psychological captive, compelled to think, feel and act as the representatives of the national State, or of some private interest within the nation, want him to think, feel and act.

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World


“Banned Books Week (September 27-October 3, 2020).” Advocacy, Legislation & Issues, American Library Association, 18 June 2020, http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/banned.

Farkas, Meredith. “When Speech Isn’t Free.” American Libraries, May 2020, p. 48.

1 Comment

  1. You’re not…though whether a person like myself, who has been out of the workforce for the last 10 years, can still call herself a librarian is up for debate. Just before the pandemic hit, I was flirting with the possibility of returning to work, and re-upped my ALA membership for resumé purposes. Meredith Farkas’ columns drove me to distraction, and often had me pitching American Libraries straight in the bin after reading them. Where are the people with whom I went to school, who so stridently resisted the Patriot Act and fought so furiously for the freedom to read and to speak?


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