Banned Books Week – you know, the one week when libraries prominently display those books that were challenged in school districts, libraries, and local governments and say, “READ THIS!” Love it or hate it, Banned Books Week seems to have a renewed sense of importance in the age of “fake news” and political correctness. Banned books displays tend to serve as lightning rods for comments like “OMG! James and the Giant Peach was banned? That was my favorite as a kid!” and “How dare you peddle this trash in our pristine community!” To which, library workers either get to excitedly talk about their favorite banned books or attempt to defend the importance of free speech in literature while trying not to further offend the disgruntled patron.
Just weeks before Banned Books Week 2018 (Sept. 23-29), Donna Crocker, director of the Morgan County Public Library in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, decided that the library would not carry the new bestselling book, Fear by Bob Woodward. A resident of Berkeley Springs attempted to donate a copy of the book to the library and was informed that the library would not take his donation and will no longer be shelving those types of books. Connie Perry, the president of the trustees of the Morgan County Public Library, quickly reversed Crocker’s decision after learning about the director’s choice of not carrying Fear in media reports.
While the Morgan County Public Library ultimately decided to add Fear to their collection, the episode highlighted the importance of libraries as centers to free and open access to information. In today’s political climate where people feel as divided as ever, it’s important for libraries to carry material that promotes all voices, even if they may be unpopular. It is vital that libraries continue to be places for open conversation and discourse and find ways to encourage civility in their communities.
Two of the top ten challenged books in 2017 were Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. They both focus on difficult issues that are imperative in today’s society – teenage suicide and police violence against minorities, respectively. It is important for libraries to circulate books that precipitate difficult conversations to build a stronger society. The theme for Banned Books Week 2018 was “Banning Books Silences Stories,” and if we are afraid to display books because some people find them offensive, we are doing a disservice to our community to provide stories for everyone. To quote Albus Dumbledore, “Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”
Learn more about Banned Books Week and the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom here: