This week, the American Library Association (ALA) raised what many Americans feel to be an antiquated and dated issue: book banning.
Every year, The ALA holds a nationwide, week long event reminding the public that censorship is still a problem. This year, from Sept. 25 through Oct. 1, Banned Book Week became the subject of every English class across the country. Teachers and librarians alike came out in force to remind their students of their first amendment right to read.
But why do we still need Banned Book Week? Do we still need it at all? When most Americans think of book banning and censorship they think about the Nazi purges where tens of thousands of volumes went up in smoke.
However, book banning isn’t a thing of the past. It’s a thing happening across schools, universities and public libraries across the country. According to the ALA’s website, over 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982. Most of these books are by or about minorities and members of the LGBTQA+ community. Out of the top 10 most frequently challenged books of 2015, four of them dealt with topics relating to homosexuality and transgender issues.
This is a huge problem for a lot of different reasons. The first and most obvious being that challenging a book means trying to bury its message. When the book is about a traditionally disenfranchised group banning it means denying that group their unique experience. It’s an attempt to cover up any wrongdoing and inequality in our society, to deny that bad things happen.
Secondly, book banning robs us of our culture. It denies others exposure to some of the greatest works in the English language. Students across the nations and of all age groups, have been denied access to Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Beloved by Toni Morrison, and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
To ban or challenge a book because it says something you disagree with or uses a word you don’t like is to rob others of a unique piece of our society. A war is being waged against our culture, our history and our ideas. Banned Book Week is a reminder that we’re still fighting.
This week is ultimately about more than just books. It’s about every song that’s deemed to “explicit” for radio, for every movie they can’t show in class, for every piece of art we create that’s reviewed and declared “acceptable” by a board or administrator. As long as there is art, Banned Book Week will always be relevant, and it will always be needed.
Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Books can not be killed by fire. People die, but books never die. No man and no force can abolish memory … In this war, we know, books are weapons. And it is a part of your dedication always to make them weapons for man’s freedom.”
The war against censorship is never going to end. There are always going to be ignorant people who want it to fit into their little mold. We cannot help that. But we can fight it with everything we have. No one, especially a teenager, should be told what they are and are not allowed to read. Books and free ideas are necessary for the preservation of our democracy and ourselves.
So, I hope you read something that someone doesn’t want you to. Always remember how lucky you are that we have the freedom to choose for ourselves. And with that freedom remember, that in this war, we have the responsibility to save our ideas from the fire.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Abhi Sharma’s Flickr account.
Sara Karlovitch is a freshman journalism and government and politics major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.