This week is Banned Books Week, and that should serve as a good reminder to all of us that information has not always been—and may not always be—free. Every year people challenge including specific books in book clubs and especially in school curricula for a variety of reasons, but this week, people around the nation are challenging those challenges.
Banned Books Week is the product and pride of librarians around the U.S. Originally founded in 1982 by Judith Krug, also a librarian, the celebration strives to celebrate books other people tried to denounce and remove. The American Library Association is the vanguard of the project and describes the week’s mission as “the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinions even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those viewpoints to all who wish to read them.”
This year, a new list of frequently-challenged titles was released, with The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie at the top. Alexie’s work, often heralded as a strong voice for the Native American communities, was taken off a 2014 supplemental reading list at Idaho’s Meridian High School after parents complained that the book is “anti-family,” “culturally insensitive,” and “anti-Christian.”
The information about current would-be bans comes from the Office for Intellectual Freedom, which works directly with teachers and librarians about this sort of thing. Specific information is kept confidential to protect identities, and so the point of the list is not to rank books by their natures, but rather to rank them by number of complaints that were filed about them.
Luckily, even though people may try to tell others what they can and cannot read, a banned book today is not necessarily the same thing as a banned book even as much as 20 years ago because we have things like digital libraries and the internet, where most things are accessible to anyone with an internet connection. And, also luckily, we still have these amazing things called libraries, which are a powerful resource in the fight to keep knowledge.
Other titles on this year’s challenged-books list include Persepolis, the graphic novel, and Peter Parnell’s And Tango Makes Three, a children’s book based on the true story of two male penguins who raised a baby together.