Censorship of Library Books
There are many efforts to protect readers from encountering dangerous literature. One of the most commonly cited is the formal censorship of library books. This is when an authoritative body, whether a person or organization, actively removes a item from library circulation in order to restrict the dissemination of ideas, words, or images. The censors go beyond choosing not to read offending material and decide to restrict or eliminate other people’s access.
As this is Banned Books Week, it seems appropriate to highlight pressure put on libraries, authors, and publishers. While higher education libraries escape most traditional book censorship campaigns, our colleagues in public and school libraries are not as fortunate. In fact, the American Library Association (ALA)’s reports a record 1,269 attempted bans in 2022. Meanwhile, the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom believes that vast majority of bans go unreported, indicating that these are only the tip of iceberg.
Here’s a list of the top five most challenged books of 2022
- Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe
- All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson (request through ILL)
- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
- Flamer by Mike Curato (request through ILL)
- (Tie) Looking for Alaska by John Green (request through ILL)
(Tie) The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky> (request through ILL)
University libraries account for a very, very small percentage of the formal censorship bans. However, literary withdrawal impacts university libraries as well as school and public libraries. It can even impact the availability and pricing of books available for sale. These actions are very difficult to track but can be insidiously effective. Ayad Akhtar, President of PEN America, wrote that his organization pays “close attention to the phenomenon of literary withdrawal, that is, when an author or publisher, invariably in response to online pressure, pulls a book from publication.” Activists pressure authors and publishers in hopes of stopping the publication of ideas and stories they believe are harmful. As noted by Pen America in their report, Booklash: Literary Freedom, Online Outrage, and the Language of Harm, “critics have argued that “problematic” books or authors deserve special censure from the literary world.” PEN America identifies several of these titles in the report. If you’re interested in borrowing any of the ones that were published, you can request a copy through interlibrary loan.
While PEN examines works of fiction, fear and external pressure can also adversely impact the publication of non-fiction as well. Dr. James Flynn, renowned for the Flynn effect, lamented that Emerald Publishing concluded that his book on free speech was too risky to publish after having previously accepted it for publication. It was later released by an independent publisher, although it likely lacked the publicity, editorial support, etc. that prominent publisher like Emerald would have provided. The published version can be borrowed from the Carney Library.
Here are a few resources to check out if you’re interested in learning more:
- American Library Association: Intellectual Freedom and Censorship https://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/censorship/faq
- American Library Association: Freedom to Read Statement https://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/freedomreadstatement
- PEN America https://pen.org/