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 | Learn | Latest News

Programs at the Library

This year’s Banned Books Week takes place from September 18–24. During that period, you can visit a display in the library’s lobby to learn more about book banning.

The library will be screening “Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time” in-person on November 11. The documentary, which recounts the life of author Kurt Vonnegut, will be shown in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of his birth. Vonnegut’s novels and freethinking writing captured the American imagination. His steadfast support of civil liberties, including the freedom of speech, was uncompromising. In an era when calls for book banning are on the rise, examining Vonnegut’s life seems more important than ever. Learn more here.

On November 14, the library will continue the conversation on book banning with a virtual panel discussion. Scholars Marilisa Jiménez García, William Gleason and Jonathan Zimmerman will discuss the current rise of book banning in the United States in historical and contemporary context. Click here to learn more and register.

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.

Created by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, cbldf.org.
Created by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, cbldf.org.

Online resources include:

Latest News

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.

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