Banned Books Week at the library

·4 min read

Sep. 23—Over the past week, the Yuba County Library has been proudly displaying books in its selection that have been either banned or challenged by different groups around the world.

Nearly 40 books from all reader demographics were arranged with paper covers reading "Banned" along with the reasons for why each book has been restricted or removed from different institutions.

According to the event website, Banned Books Week was originally founded in 1982 in response to a sudden rise in demands for censorship or removal of books deemed too inappropriate for children and the public within schools, libraries and bookstores. Typically held near the end of September, the event highlights the importance of free and open access to communication, said Leah Madsen, senior library technician for the Yuba County Library.

The library has been participating in Banned Books Week since 2016. The selection of banned books changes depending on which titles are available within circulation, Madsen said.

"This week is important because it's just to bring awareness to censorship and start a conversation," she said.

The books featured in this display have not been banned by the library, Madsen said. The display was arranged to highlight a sample of the books that have been banned or challenged in both historic and recent times.

According to the American Library Association, a book that has been challenged involves an attempt to remove or restrict materials based on the objections of a person or group while banning is the outright removal of the disputed material.

Among the banned titles were children's books like "Where the Wild Things Are" by Maurice Sendak, which was banned in the United States for depicting disturbing content, witchcraft and supernatural elements and glorifying a child throwing a tantrum, Madsen said.

Other adult titles featured this week were banned or challenged for depicting more serious or graphic content. George Orwell's "1984" was banned in multiple countries including Russia, Turkey and the United States under separate claims that the book enforces either a pro-communist or anti-communist agenda.

Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye" remains banned in different institutions for its depiction of child sexual abuse.

While schools and public libraries are often equally subjected to having certain books removed from shelves, removing a controversial title from schools is typically determined by a school board or district policy, Madsen said.

A report released Monday from PEN America, a nonprofit group that advocates for free expression in literature, found that over 1,600 book titles have been banned or challenged in schools across the country in the 2021/22 school year.

The report found that between July 2021 and June this year, there were over 2,500 instances of books being banned across 32 states, indicating that the same titles were targeted multiple times.

The report did not record any book bannings in California. However, Texas recorded between 700-1,000 attempts to remove certain books from school shelves, the highest amount from the available data.

"While we think of book bans as the work of individual concerned citizens, our report demonstrates that today's wave of bans represents a coordinated campaign to banish books being waged by sophisticated, ideological and well-resourced advocacy organizations," Chief Executive Officer of PEN America Susan Nossel said in a statement.

The organization has identified at least 50 political and parent advocacy groups involved in pushing for book bans across the country, the report said. While these groups do not share identical goals, many of them express language in their mission statements that refer to parents' rights or religious or conservative views, the report said.

A significant number of books that have been banned or challenged in the last year include themes that touch on race or LGBT individuals.

"The vast majority of the books targeted by these groups for removal feature LGBTQ+ characters or characters of color, and/or cover race and racism in American history, LGBTQ+ identities, or sex education," the report said.

In her experience, Madsen has not witnessed parents or patrons attempt to remove or restrict materials in the Yuba County Library. She believes that offering books that have been banned or challenged in different communities is important to thinking critically about the materials presented.

"We get a lot of inquiries about the reasons for banning a book. If someone hasn't read the book, it encourages them to read it. It's about having your freedom to read and think for yourself," Madsen said.

Banned Books Week will continue until Saturday. Titles featured in the library's banned books display are available for check-out.

The Yuba County Library is located at 303 2nd St. in Marysville and is open Tuesday through Friday from noon to 6 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.