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SJR State Library

Banned Books Week: Banned Books Week

BANNED BOOKS WEEK"Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship. The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) compiles lists of challenged books as reported in the media and submitted by librarians and teachers across the country." - Banned Books Week Coalition

View the Top 100 Banned & Challenged Books of the Last Decade

View the Top 10 Most Challenged Books each year since 2001

Explore banned and challenged books by topic, genre, time, and audience

The SJR State Library is committed to protecting intellectual freedom and supports the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, Freedom to Read Statement, Freedom to View Statement, Intellectual Freedom Principles for Academic Libraries.

What is a challenge or ban? Who initiates challenges? Where does this occur?

A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.  A banning is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.  Due to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents, students and other concerned citizens, most challenges are unsuccessful and most materials are retained in the school curriculum or library collection. - ALA

Books usually are challenged with the best intentions—to protect others, frequently children, from difficult ideas and information. 

Censorship can be subtle, almost imperceptible, as well as blatant and overt, but, nonetheless, harmful. As John Stuart Mill wrote in On Liberty: "If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error."

Often challenges are motivated by a desire to protect children from “inappropriate” sexual content or “offensive” language. The following were the top three reasons cited for challenging materials as reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom:

  1. the material was considered to be "sexually explicit"
  2. the material contained "offensive language"
  3. the materials was "unsuited to any age group"

Although this is a commendable motivation, Access to Library Resources and Services for Minors, an interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights (ALA's basic policy concerning access to information) states that, “Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that parents—and only parents—have the right and the responsibility to restrict the access of their children—and only their children—to library resources.” Censorship by librarians of constitutionally protected speech, whether for protection or for any other reason, violates the First Amendment.

As Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., in Texas v. Johnson, said most eloquently: "If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable." - ALA

Throughout history, more and different kinds of people and groups of all persuasions than you might first suppose, who, for all sorts of reasons, have attempted—and continue to attempt—to suppress anything that conflicts with or anyone who disagrees with their own beliefs.

In his book Free Speech for Me—But Not for Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other, Nat Hentoff writes that “the lust to suppress can come from any direction.” He quotes Phil Kerby, a former editor of the Los Angeles Times, as saying, “Censorship is the strongest drive in human nature; sex is a weak second.” - ALA

The SJR State Library's Annual Observances of Banned Books Week