Banned Books Week Across America

The+American+Library+Association+has+declared+the+theme+for+this+years+Banned+Books+Week+as+Books+Unite+Us.+Censorship+Divides+Us.%0AStop+into+the+library+and+celebrate+the+freedom+to+read+by+checking+out+our+display+of+banned+books+covering+a+variety+of+themes.

Photo by Valerie Harrison

The American Library Association has declared the theme for this year’s Banned Books Week as “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.” Stop into the library and celebrate the freedom to read by checking out our display of banned books covering a variety of themes.

The Harry Potter Series. Captain Underpants. James and the Giant Peach. Despite being classic children’s books, what do they all have in common? Regardless of preventions put into place by groups like the American Library Association, all these books have been victims of censorship challenges in libraries. The ALA reports that in 2022 so far there have been 1,651 individual books that have been challenged in the United States.

Children’s books are not the only target either, literary classics like Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee are some of the country’s most banned books. Reasons for this span from issues like racism, homophobia, and antisemitism, to much less controversial reasons like profanity, violence, and drug and alcohol use. While the reasons may vary, banning books always results in the loss of valuable information and stories.

While some may argue that removing more sensitive books from public and school libraries protects children and young adults from harsh topics, many claim that it is more about control than protection. Control over people’s beliefs and political stances. Control over what knowledge people should have access to. Especially when so many of these books contain or are based upon true stories of our world’s darker points in history, which by telling can prevent the recurrence of them in the future.

Many examples of book bans throughout history support this claim. One example going as far back as ancient China, when emperor Shih Huang Ti had all the scholars in his empire killed along with burning all historical books as to make the people believe history started with him. Or in 1624, when Martin Luther’s German translation of the Bible was ordered to be burnt by the Pope to prevent people from interoperating it on their own. And one of the most horrific examples, in Nazi Germany, thousands of books were destroyed and burnt in massive bonfires, books which were written by people the Nazi’s wanted to silence. The time and place may change, but one common link connects all these book bans: control.

We are lucky to live in a country built on the basis of freedom and equality, these freedoms are constantly challenged by the banning of books in our libraries. This is not a distant issue either.

A prime example of this extreme form of censorship can be seen as local as Smithtown. In June of 2022, in the middle of LGBTQ+ Pride month, the Smithtown Public Library put a ban on all LGBTQ+ material from the children’s section of the library. While the ban was reversed almost immediately after, it was both a scary example of control over what people, mainly children, should be allowed to learn about, but also a wakeup call for people across Long Island who thought “that could never happen here.”

Along with this, it should also be noted that some of the most banned books in today’s day in age are those which include characters of gay and transgender identities. Not only do book bans cover up the atrocities of the past but hide the truth of the present.

No matter your political affiliations, religious beliefs, or personal values, in this country it is your constitutional right to learn about issues and form your own opinions. And banning books directly inflicts upon that right. It is commonly known that knowledge is power, and when people try to control your availability to knowledge, you lose that power.