by India-Bleu Niehoff
Banned Books Week began in 1982, in response to a surge of book bans and challenges. It was specifically started by Judith Krug, a librarian and strong proponent of freedom of speech. Since then, the American Library Association has tracked the number of books that have been banned or challenged across the United States. The pressing nature and need of this week has not diminished but only increased since then.
This year, Banned Books Week is October 1-7, 2023. In the last year, the number of books that have been banned or challenged in the US has skyrocketed. The American Library Association (ALA) records that “between January 1 and August 31, 2023, [the Office of Intellectual Freedom] reported 695 attempts to censor library materials and services and documented challenges to 1,915 unique titles – a 20% increase from the same reporting period in 2022,” (ALA, 2023). This is placed in context of the record breaking year of 2022 where “censors targeted a record 2,571 unique titles in 2022, a 38% increase from the 1,858 unique titles targeted for censorship in 2021,” (ALA, 2023). Not only have the numbers of books being challenged increased but there is a strong trend with the majority of titles being banned having been “written by or about members of the LGBTQIA+ community or by and about Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color,” (ALA, 2023).
What can you do? There are many things that one can do! Banned Books week is designed to bring attention and action to make change. October 7th, is the ALA’s Let Freedom Read Day, but as the ALA recognizes, every day is an important day to fight for the right to read. Engage with your community, look into events being held by your local public library and schools. Whether that is through volunteering, speaking out or checking out a banned book. There is work that everyone can do.
ALA’s Let Freedom Read Day with actionable steps for all: Let Freedom Read Day
ALA’s Book Ban Data: Book Ban Data
This ALA timeline of Banned Books Week: Timeline
Read this piece by Dr. Debbie Reese, where she discusses the banning of Native Voices and Books.