Spotlight on Censorship

Banned Books Week, Censorship, Office for Intellectual Freedom

The OIF Blog is proud to introduce Katherine Chamberlain, a library school student who will be blogging throughout Banned Books Week and beyond on various censorship topics.  This week, Katherine will bring her spotlight to some of the books that are frequently challenged.  Why are they being challenged, where, and by whom?  Visit OIF Blog all week for her posts, plus our daily “Banned Books Week Display of the Week” and much more!

Welcome to Banned Books Week 2010!  This annual event celebrates the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.  Starting tomorrow on the OIF Blog, I will profile banned books from years past, detailing the history of challenges to the books and, when known, the outcome of the challenges.  Understanding the challenges of the past will help educate and inspire today’s intellectual freedom fighters in our ongoing battle to protect the freedom to read and the freedom of expression.

But first, a very brief history of Banned Books Week.  At its 1982 annual convention, the American Booksellers Association (ABA) displayed three books in miniature prison cells to call attention to the practice of book banning.  Each book was uniquely objectionable: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou because it advocated “bitterness and hatred against whites”; Doris Day: Her Own Story by Doris Day because it contained shocking content “in light of Miss Day’s All-American image”; and The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank because it was simply “a real downer.”

Arguably, the real “downer” is the undermining of the First Amendment through censorship.  As a result of the display at the ABA convention, a coalition of library and publishing organizations launched Banned Books Week in September 1982.  The week’s threefold purpose remains the same today: to draw attention to the importance of the freedom to read, to publicize threats to this freedom, and to combat ignorance and misinformation.

The Office for Intellectual Freedom collects information about challenged and banned books from news articles and reports from individuals (who can use the Challenge Reporting Form) and compiles it in a database.  The bimonthly Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom contains challenges gathered from news outlets nationwide, while the Banned Books Resource Guide is published every three years.

Individual reports to OIF remain confidential.  In these cases, OIF only releases the title of the challenged book and the state and type of institution in which the challenge occurred.  Of the 460 challenges reported to OIF in 2009, these ten were reported most frequently.  Research suggests that for every reported challenge, as many as four or five go unreported.

Banned Books Week begins today with a Read-Out! of the most frequently banned and challenged books of 2009.  If you are in the Chicago area, please join the ALA from noon to 2:00 in historic Bughouse Square (901 N. Clark Street).  Others around the country should check the Banned Books Week website for events in your area.

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