By: Rebecca Slocum
Recently, ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) announced its annual list of Top Banned or Challenged Books for the previous year. This year’s list includes familiar titles, such as Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Alex Gino’s George; it also included some new titles, such as Gayle Pitman’s This Day in June and Jill Twiss’ A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo.
I love reading banned books. Almost nothing makes me want to reach for a book more than hearing that someone attempted to remove it from public access. When I was completing my Library Science degree, I took a Literature for Children course, in which the professor devoted an entire unit to banned and challenged books; it was my favorite class in three years of graduate school.
Aside from the obvious notion that things always look more appealing to us when they’re taken away, I also gravitate towards these controversial titles because they make me uncomfortable. That sounds weird, I know. Why would I want to be uncomfortable when I’m reading a book?
As a librarian, I love learning; it’s essentially my goal in life to be a perpetual student. In addition, I strive to help others love learning as well. It’s extremely satisfying when I can guide patrons to a new book, a new genre, a new resource on a research subject, or even a title that helps develop a new point of view. Developing a love of learning leads us to continuously seek out new stories and ideas that help form who we are as individuals and as members of society.
Banned books are an important and radical way to continue that growth and development. When a book is banned or challenged, it shines a light on issues that our society would rather be kept in the dark. It is no coincidence that this year’s list includes books featuring LGBTQ+ content, teen suicide, sexual references, and police brutality situations. They are important and timely issues with which people struggle to understand. They are uncomfortable. And it does us no good to hide in the dark in ignorance. Just as plants need sunlight to grow from seed to maturity, these important topics need light – awareness and dissemination of knowledge – to grow from an idea to real change.
Growing pains are called, well, pains for a reason. When I’m reading a book and I start to feel that prick of discomfort, I know it’s my brain telling me an opportunity for growth and learning is available. It’s my choice to remain in the dark or flip the light switch.
How Can You Help?
Here are a few ways in which you can shine a light on this year’s top banned books.
- Read them.
This may sound obvious, but reading these books is one of the best ways to continue supporting these stories and the authors who were brave enough to write them. Read them as a mirror to see yourself; read them as a window through which to understand the world around you. Check them out from the library; buy them from a bookstore. Just read them – and then share them with a friend!
- Write to the author.
Just as it is not always easy to read books that discuss these important issues, I am sure that it is infinitely harder to write about them, especially if the story is coming from personal experience. These authors used their courage and skill to help us learn more about the world around us. If you feel particularly changed or inspired by one of these books, send the author an email, a letter, or even a tweet letting them know you appreciate their hard work.
- Stay informed.
Censorship flourishes when no one speaks out against it. Stay informed about your local community and any issues pertaining to intellectual freedom by being involved with and attending your school board, local library, and town hall meetings. Stay informed, and if you can, speak out against censorship and preventing open access to information by writing to community and school leaders, local newspapers/publications, or even city and state leaders.
Rebecca Slocum has worked in education as a teacher and library consultant for the last 5 years and is a recent MLIS graduate student from the University of North Texas. She is interested in issues involving intellectual freedom, censorship, and collection development in school libraries. In her spare time, Rebecca enjoys reading, writing, running, and roaming the world. Currently, she stays at home caring for her son and writes at her blog, The Dewey Decimator. Find her on Twitter @bcslocum.