Update, [2:50 p.m.], [Oct. 3, 2016]: [The sources of two quotes were clarified.]
In 2015, society reached political and social milestones for equality. The United States legalized same-sex marriage, and Caitlyn Jenner, a transgender woman, became the runner-up for TIME’s person of the year.
That same year, 275 books were challenged. This means that someone tried to remove a book from schools and public libraries or restrict it from school curriculums across the country, according to the American Library Association (ALA).
Book censorship is an ongoing problem. In an effort to raise awareness of not only banned and challenged books but also of the public’s intellectual freedom and right to read, the ALA created Banned Books Week.
“Banned Books Week is bigger than just books, it could be about movies or protested speakers. It calls attention to our freedom to express our beliefs, to be able to ask questions, to feel free to argue and debate a certain topic,” said James LaRue, director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, during a phone interview with The Miami Hurricane.
Since the first Banned Books Week in 1982, more than 11,300 books have been challenged, including the “Harry Potter” series, “Looking for Alaska” by John Green and more recently, the Holy Bible, according to the ALA.
“The three main reasons books were challenged last year were because of their religious viewpoint, offensive language and sexuality,” said Lauren Fralinger, UM’s learning and research services librarian.
“Over the years, fads have been a big part of challenged books. Like when the ‘Harry Potter’ books were very popular, they were heavily challenged.” LaRue said. “But in today’s society, most of the books being challenged are about people of color, minority religion and the LGBT community.”
In an effort to call attention to that censorship, the theme of this year’s Banned Books Week is diversity. Fralinger said this theme highlights books that represent minority communities either by their topic or by the person who wrote them.
“By focusing on the theme of diversity, we are focusing on people that have experiences that are different than our own and are certainly different than the dominant culture at large,” said Mickey Huff, director of Project Censored, a sponsor of Banned Books Week, during a phone interview with The Miami Hurricane.
Banning and challenging books poses a risk to students who seek to broaden their education.
“Students come to school to learn and grow, and by silencing people’s voices whose stories may otherwise not be heard makes it hard for students to learn. They are missing pieces of their education,” Fralinger said.
However, when a book is challenged or banned, it can also draw attention to that book, making students more interested in reading it.
“Ironically, the effect of banning books can often be a means of launching that book into the public eye, actually generating a wider readership,” said Ann Manette Ansay, a professor of English and creative writing at UM. “I doubt I would have sought out ‘Jude the Obscure’ and ‘An American Tragedy’ while still in high school had these books not been presented to me as forbidden.”
Throughout Banned Books Week, which runs until Oct. 1, UM will showcase a display of banned and challenged books on the first floor of the Richter Library. Students are encouraged to check out and read these books.
The library also hosted a Read Out event Wednesday, where students, faculty and administrators read a selection from a personally chosen banned or challenged book.
“The importance of Banned Books Week is to remind us that people do want to shut down discussion and debate that is different from that which they agree, and we should stand up and support people for not only their right to read but the right to teach, to learn and the right to think freely about the world and our place in it,” Huff said.
Listen to Mickey Huff’s Banned Books Week podcast at projectcensored.org.
Featured image courtesy Stewart Butterfield via Flickr.