It’s Banned Book Week sponsored by the American Library Association and I’ve been seeing a lot of posts with ALA lists of most frequently banned or challenged books (in the U.S.) and so on. I’ve found that I have surprisingly mixed feelings about Banned Books Week.
First off, let me say that I fully support the goals of the ALA in reminding us of the importance of our freedom to read and the need to continue to protect that freedom. I want to look at this from a different perspective though.
Number of books banned by the United States: 0
Number of books banned by states within the U.S.: 0
The book banning that that ALA is talking about is the removal of books from particular public libraries and school libraries. They publish prominently that there are thousands of challenges where individuals or groups request removal of a book, but it’s a bit harder to figure out how many of those challenges actually succeed. I went through their report for 2010-2011 and counted the following:
Books removed from public libraries in 2010-2011: 0
Books removed from a school library or curriculum in 2010-2012: 9
It seems to me that calling the removal of books from school libraries book banning is a bit strong. These books are widely available. It is legal to print these books. It is legal to sell these books. It is legal to read these books. It’s important to remember that there are countries where these things are not true and books really are banned.
Earlier this year, authors who read aloud from The Satanic Verses (probably the most banned book of modern times) at the Jaipur Literature Festival in India had to flee the city to avoid arrest. American Psycho can’t be sold on bookshelves in Australia. In March, Russian courts banned the publication and distribution of Dianetics and other books on scientology. These are just a few examples.
To conclude, in the United States our freedom to read is quite robust! While we should continue to support our librarians as they work to keep controversial books available in our libraries, we should also remember that in other parts of the world, books really do get banned.