Each year, during the last week of September, the American Library Association celebrates our First Amendment rights with Banned Books week. One of the event’s center points is publication of a list that enumerates those books that have received the most challenges during the past year.

Each year, during the last week of September, the American Library Association celebrates our First Amendment rights with Banned Books week. One of the event’s center points is publication of a list that enumerates those books that have received the most challenges during the past year.


According to the ALA, "A challenge is defined as a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness."


The Office of Intellectual Freedom is the ALA division responsible for monitoring these challenges. From 2000 to 2009, the OIF reports that 5,099 challenges have been received. Of these 1,577 challenges were due to "sexually explicit" material; 1,291 challenges due to "offensive language;" 989 challenges due to materials deemed "unsuited to age group;" 619 challenged due to "violence;"’ and 361 challenges due to "homosexuality."


Further, 274 materials were challenged due to "occult" or "Satanic" themes. An additional 291 were challenged due to their "religious viewpoint," and 119 because they were "anti-family."


As to the source institutions, OIF reports 1,639 of these challenges were in school libraries; 1,811 were in classrooms; 1,217 took place in public libraries. There were 114 challenges to materials used in college classes; and 30 to academic libraries. The vast majority of challenges were initiated by parents (2,535), with patrons and administrators to follow (516 and 489, respectively).


We shouldn’t be surprised that the majority of challenges came from parents. Every parent should want to help select and guide their child in selecting what they deem to be appropriate reading material.


While that is laudable, the purpose of most challenges is to have the material in question removed from public availability. That kind of censorship is anathema to the foundational principles of our republic. A parent’s desire to shield her child from materials the parent dislikes is understandable; and as above, can be laudable, but outright removal strips away another parent’s right to make the same choices for his child.


Of course, there are many myths surrounding the culture of censorship. One of the most prevailing falsehoods is that censorship occurs primarily in states that would be associated with right-wing conservative views often identified as the "Bible Belt."


Anti-censorship activist Donald Parker unpacks this misconception. As Parker observes, "Many years ago, the organization, People for the American Way, in tracking cases of censorship, listed the 10 states reporting the most incidents of challenges. Only two of the states would be identified with the "Bible Belt," in the South; the others were from all sections of the country."


Parker goes on to clarify, "Each year, written incidents of censorship sent to the Office of Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association continue to have no geographic pattern. The organization considers censorship to be a national problem."


While the South is often unfairly maligned for its provincialism, Parker’s research shows that censorship can be found all over the country — not that observing a national rather than a regional problem is a good thing, but at least it dispels a common myth.


Whether parents use Banned Books Week to broaden their child’s reading habits or to confirm their convictions against a particular book, this time should prompt us all to celebrate the freedom we have to read, write and speak as we choose.


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