At the Library: Celebrate your freedom to read what you want during Banned Books Week

captain underpants

“The Adventures of Captain Underpants” is one of the 11 most-banned books of 2018.

In 1982, my mom and dad were the proud parents of two little girls — neither of which was me, since I hadn’t been born yet.

Considering that I was still a twinkle in my parents’ proverbial eye, I don’t have a lot of first-hand memories of the 1980s.

What I do know is that, by and large, the 1980s were a weird conglomeration of ridiculous trends (read: parachute pants), horrible tragedies (the Chernobyl and the Challenger space shuttle disasters occurred in 1983) and other world-shifting events like the fall of the Berlin Wall, the protests at Tiananmen Square and the invention of the internet.

In the midst of all of this change, a smaller, quieter but no-less-consequential event was unfolding: the inaugural celebration of Banned Books Week in September 1982.

According to bannedbooksweek.org, Banned Books Weeks owes its existence to the Association of American Publishers, which was so alarmed by a marked rise in books being challenged, censored or banned in American schools, bookstores and libraries that it asked Judy Krug, a First Amendment and library activist, to help draw attention to a growing epidemic of book censorship.

Krug then contacted the American Library Association and worked with its Intellectual Freedom Committee to plan and celebrate the first-ever Banned Books Week just six weeks later.

Since then, for the last 37 years, Banned Books Week has continued to be a time to celebrate the freedom to read.

This year, Banned Books Week is Sept. 22-28. The 2019 theme, “Censorship Leaves Us in the Dark — Keep the Light On,” is a reminder that everyone needs to draw attention to, and speak out against, censorship “in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas — even those that some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”

I know what some of you are thinking: Is book banning even still a thing?

Like, does this even really matter, in the grand scheme of things?

Well, folks, you might be surprised.

Since 1990, the library association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom has compiled a list of books that have been banned or censored; in the last 20 years, they have recorded 12,664 book challenges nationwide.

That amounts to approximately one book, somewhere in the U.S., being challenged, censored or banned EVERY OTHER DAY for the last two decades.

It’s important to add that the Office of Intellectual Freedom only tracks reported cases of censorship, so it’s safe to assume that the actual number of banned and challenged books is significantly higher.

The reasons cited for demands to remove or censor books are often as disparate as the books themselves, with commonly referenced complaints including violence, profanity, LGBTQIA+ relationships, sexually explicit content, drug or alcohol use, religious viewpoints, and content deemed unsuitable for the title’s target age group.

You’ll note, I hope, that these arguments are all subjective and dependent on the perspective and views of a single person or group.

As a librarian and a supporter of the freedom of information, that’s an unsettling reality for me to reconcile with — and, if you’re still wondering, it’s exactly why we celebrate Banned Books Week.

Each of us, individually, has the absolute right to decide what reading material is, or is not, appropriate for ourselves and our families, but that concept becomes a bridge much too far when someone decides they have the right to make those decisions for others.

Banned Books Week is not about negating the feelings or objections of one group over another; it’s about protecting our individual rights to read what we want, safe in the knowledge that our interests and views will not be policed, negated or otherwise stymied.

I encourage you to celebrate with us, by exercising your right to read — or not read — a banned book.

For more information about Banned Books Week, including the list of the 11 most-banned books of 2018, visit www.yvl.org/banned-books-week.

• Krystal Corbray is programming and marketing librarian for Yakima Valley Libraries. Learn more at www.yvl.org.

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