February 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

New Resources for Banned Books Week

Librarians and educators who are facing book challenges in their schools, or anyone interested in First Amendment issues, have a new resource that explores censorship throughout history and provides steps on how to oppose book banning in their communities.

Released in advance of Banned Books Week 2017 (Sept. 24–30), Banned Books: Defending Our Freedom To Read from the American Library Association (ALA) provides a framework for understanding censorship and reviews First Amendment protections. The volume has been published every third year since 1982, but this latest edition, by Robert P. Doyle, features a more streamlined design and recounts past book banning incidents from as early as 387 BCE to the present day.

Held every fall, Banned Books Week draws attention to the negative effects of censorship. According to the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), removing one book because of a challenge “can turn into the opening foray of a major curriculum content battle involving warring factions of parents and politicians, teachers, students and administrators.” Censorship harms students by imposing one person’s or group’s concerns or sensitivities on all students, the NCAC says, and it limits the ability of teachers “to explore all possible avenues to motivate and ‘reach’ students.”

To accompany the book, ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom has created a Rebel Reader Twitter Tournament Toolkit that includes website banners, printable bookmarks, a coloring sheet, and suggested hashtags. To be eligible for a prize in the #RebelReader tournament, people can use Twitter to post a selfie with a banned or challenged book, share a quote from a favorite banned book, or tweet a photo of a completed coloring sheet during Banned Books Week. Other options are also available. This is the first time the social media campaign has been part of the week’s activities.

The new ALA release includes information on who brings book challenges, why, and how often. It discusses court precedents and legal cases and includes a list of the 10 most challenged books of 2016. The release also features a more comprehensive grouping of almost 2,000 challenged titles, listed alphabetically by author and organized into title, topical, and geographic indices. The book also explains how educators, parents, students, and others can oppose book banning in their communities.

James LaRue, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom, said the book “does a good job of saying why the average citizen may find First Amendment issues so important,” and that librarians will likely “get a lift from reading about how much we have contributed to the intellectual freedom of the nation.”

Meanwhile, the NCAC is seeking feedback on an updated version of its Book Censorship Toolkit, which provides basic information on censorship in public schools and details the steps that educators and librarians can take when facing a challenge. Individuals are urged to review the new toolkit and email ncac@ncac.org with any suggestions for how to improve it.

Last year, School Library Journal’s Controversial Books Survey revealed that more than 40 percent of librarians in schools say they have personally faced a book challenge. In addition, more than 90 percent of elementary and middle school librarians and 75 percent of high school librarians report that they decided not to purchase a book for their collection because it included sexual content, profanity or other subject matter that could be considered “non-age appropriate” or controversial. About a quarter of school librarians responding also said that their schools did not have a formal policy on how to handle book challenges.

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Linda Jacobson About Linda Jacobson

SLJ contributor Linda Jacobson is an education writer and editor based in the Los Angeles area.

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