Every year during the last week of September, the American Library Association (ALA), academic libraries, and public libraries observe Banned Books Week. During this week, libraries explore the effects of censorship on books and other challenged media. The ALA also releases a list of the most banned or challenged books from the previous year. This year Reese Library hosted a “Read Out” for individuals to read passages from books that have been banned or challenged. In the past few years, Library faculty have organized other events around this topic and taught classes about historical challenges to intellectual freedom. One question students and others alike always ask is if this still happens today?
The answer is, and maybe always will be: yes. Unfortunately, only two weeks after this nationwide event that recognizes books that have been banned or challenged, a local school district made the decision to ban three books from their curriculum and possibly their media centers. Particularly disturbing is the way these books were described: “troubling” and “extreme.” What is so troubling and extreme is not made clear, but here are some brief descriptions of the individual book themes:
- Dear Martin by Nic Stone tells the story of an African-American boy who experiences racism and the aftermath of police brutality.
- Regeneration by Pat Harker is a fictionalized account of real-life poets in World War I which deals with anti-war and LGBTQ themes.
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon is about a teenage autistic boy who is investigating the death of his neighbor’s dog and deals with themes of being an outsider and the hardships of life.
While perhaps it is true that certain material may not be suitable for every reader, educators should encourage critical thought. Material that challenges the worldviews of students is necessary to develop them for today’s global society. Banning access to themes, situations, or even language one would find objectionable does not remove it from lived experiences, only obscures possibly fruitful conversations from occurring. Perhaps by encountering challenging subject matters in literature first, educators can help students develop thoughtful and critical reactions to difficult concepts. To ban books outright limits exposure to diverse viewpoints that students may otherwise never experience.
The Augusta University Libraries support intellectual freedom and adhere to the ALA’s Code of Ethics. The Libraries encourage our students, and the community at large, to view the banned items for themselves and participate in this conversation. The three titles in question are available for checkout from Reese Library:
Find Dear Martin at Reese Library.
Find Regeneration at Reese Library.
Rind The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-timeat Reese Library.