Understanding Banned Books Week
Since 1982, libraries, publishers, educators, booksellers and others have observed Banned Books Week annually to draw attention to the hazards of censorship and value of freedom of expression. This year’s Banned Books Week takes place against the backdrop of an unparalleled surge in book banning in the United States.
Despite the centrality of freedom of speech to America’s national identity, vocal contingents have long tried to limit access to sources they deemed inappropriate or dangerous. Evidence of book banning dates back at least to the Puritans of New England, with surges tending to occur in waves. For instance, pro-slavery advocates before the Civil War successfully limited antislavery expression—including Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and abolitionist speech in Congress. Debates raged in the 19th and 20th centuries over the publication of materials deemed “obscene“—a vague term used to challenge a broad array of books. In the Cold War era, many censorship efforts focused on materials perceived as Communist in nature. Plainly put, debates over book bans typically stand in for broader political, cultural and social conflicts.
A renewed spike in challenges to books in the 1980s led the American Library Association (ALA) and Association of American Publishers to establish Banned Books Week in an effort to combat censorship and highlight targeted books. While earlier waves of censorship have frequently focused on reading material for adults, in the last 40 years much of the fight over book banning has centered on what is appropriate for children. In particular, proponents of book banning in the last two years have primarily targeted titles related to the experiences and perspectives of people of color and/or LGBTQ+ people.
Princeton Public Library subscribes to the ALA’s commitment to “challeng[ing] censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.” Use this guide to learn about the library’s programs and resources related to Banned Books Week, as well as the latest news on book banning around the country.
Programs at the Library
Recording from the November 14 panel discussion, Book Banning on the Rise. This recording is presented in partnership by Princeton Public Library and Labyrinth Books. Scholars Marilisa Jiménez García, William Gleason and Jonathan Zimmerman discuss the current rise of book banning in the United States in historical and contemporary context. This program explored the rise of book banning in America. Against the backdrop of an unprecedented surge in efforts to ban books, a panel of experts examined the topic in both historical and contemporary context.
Learn about Banned Books
See below for a list of this year’s topped banned books, as well as infographics and resources related to book banning.
Online resources include:
- Report from PEN America
- Resources from Banned Books Week
- “Banned and Challenged Books,” a website of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom
- “Book Banning,” article in the First Amendment Encyclopedia
- “Banned Books Resource Hub,” an initiative of Penguin Random House
- Resources and action kit from the National Coalition Against Censorship
- Resources from We Need Diverse Books
Reports of efforts to ban books are appearing in news sources nearly every day. Below is a sampling of the latest stories of book banning nationwide. Be sure to visit ilovelibraries, an initiative of ALA, for their continued coverage of book challenges.
- November 9: “Princeton Library Panel Addresses Book Banning” U.S. 1
- November 2: “‘It must be stopped’: ACLU issues warning on book bans in Michigan schools” Detroit Free Press
- November 1: “When It Happens to You: Library workers and school administrators talk about getting caught in the crossfire of book challenges” American Libraries
- October 26: “Panel Explores Surge in Book Bans, Policies Targeting the LGBTQ Community” Publishers Weekly
- September 16: “On the Eve of Banned Books Week 2022, ALA Says Challenges Are Rising” Publishers Weekly
- September 12: “How the Brooklyn Library Helped Fight Book Bans in Oklahoma,” New York Times
- August 27: “Brooklyn Public Library makes banned books available to teens for free,” NPR
- August 26: “Missouri schools are taking books off shelves due to ‘sexually explicit’ content ban,” NPR
- August 23: “Texas school district pulls the Bible, The Bluest Eye and other books from library,” The Guardian
- August 18: “‘A fascist approach to education’: acclaimed local authors react to Central Bucks School District’s book policies,” WHYY
- August 17: “NJ high school librarian who opposed removal of LGBTQ books receives national honor,” MyCentralJersey.com
- August 17: “Students lose access to books amid ‘state-sponsored purging of ideas,'” Washington Post
- August 17: “Anne Frank graphic novel among titles being reviewed for book ban in Texas school district,” USA Today
- August 17: “As Book Banning Increases, Librarians Are Banding Together to Fight Back,” Reader’s Digest
- August 17: “‘I’m sitting in front of my classroom library on a Saturday’: Tennessee teacher pushes back on state’s book ban,” WATN Local 24
- August 16: “Book bans: New Missouri law makes it a crime to share ‘explicit’ material to students,” KSLTV
- August 15: “Battle over LGBTQ books at rural Iowa town’s public library,” KETV Omaha
- August 2: “Utah school district pulls 52 books after concerns and flagged another 32 for later review,” Salt Lake City Tribune
- July 18: “With rising book bans, librarians have come under attack,” New York Times
- July 7: “Book ban effort at NJ school library sparked police call, report says,” New Jersey 101.5 FM
Humanities@PPL promotes critical thinking, civic engagement, and empathetic understanding through community collaboration and dynamic programs and resources. The initiative is made possible with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.