Controversial books are nothing new, but the incidence of book challenges and bans has increased substantially in recent years.
This week marks the American Library Association’s annual Banned Books Week, and this year’s theme is “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.”
The association’s polling on the issue showed 71% of Americans oppose removing books from public libraries, and 67% oppose removing books from school libraries.
Andrea Boothby Rice, chair of the Intellectual Freedom Panel for the Maryland Library Association, said. At the same time, the state has not seen a large increase in book challenges, some programs have been challenged.
“In Maryland, we’ve seen some of those where LGBTQ programs have taken place, and individuals who live outside the counties — that’s not their local library that it’s happening at — are showing up and trying to have the events canceled,” Boothby Rice observed.
More information on the association’s initiative to fight censorship is online at uniteagainstbookbans.org.
Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom for the American Library Association, which has tracked book censorship for decades, said organized political groups who advocate censorship are involved in efforts to influence school boards and library boards, sending motivated voices to speak to elected officials. Officeholders facing book challenges often listen to the people speaking out at public meetings, but when opponents of censorship make their voices heard, things can go differently.
“When there are others in the room speaking out against censorship, speaking out in favor of having a wide variety of books available for young people to read, for the community to read, then we often see efforts to remove books fail,” Caldwell-Stone pointed out.
She added writing an email to the library board or sending a letter with another supporter to be read at a meeting may also give busy people a way to make their voices heard.
Over her career, Caldwell-Stone has seen the kinds of books being challenged expand. She said books containing profanity or coming-of-age stories with accounts of first sexual experiences have often been challenged, but in recent years challenges have taken on additional political dimensions.
“When you look at the books that are challenged, you’re seeing books that have no sexual content at all but advance different narratives around our history with racism or the lives and experiences of LGBTQIA persons,” Caldwell-Stone explained.
The association estimates 82% and 97% of book challenges go unreported.