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Banned Books Week: A 'Celebration of the Freedom to Read'

"Censorship is about more than a single book. It is about the intellectual, cultural and political life of the community and the people in it."

A display for Banned Books Week.  (Photo:  Columbus State Library)

Want to celebrate freedom from censorship and open access to information this week?

You might want to pick up a copy of Captain Underpants, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, or The Hunger Games. That's because they're on the list of 2013's most challenged books, and this is Banned Books Week, an annual "celebration of the freedom to read."

"Our most basic freedom in a democratic society is our first amendment right of the freedom to read," a statement from American Library Association (ALA) President Courtney Young reads. "Banned Books Week is an opportunity for all of us—community residents, librarians, authors and educators—to stand together protecting this fundamental right for everyone and for future generations. We can never take this precious right for granted."

The ALA joins the National Coalition Against Censorship, the American Society of Journalists and Authors and Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) among other groups, in sponsoring this year's event.

"This year we spotlight graphic novels because, despite their serious literary merit and popularity as a genre, they are often subject to censorship," stated Judith Platt, chair of the Banned Books Week National Committee.

Since 1982, the Banned Books Week website states, over 11,300 books in schools, libraries and bookstores have been challenged, with over 300 reported just last year. While a single challenge to remove a book over concerns of inappropriateness appears to affect one local institution, the CBLDF explains how the effects are, in fact, far-reaching.

In its Banned Books Week Handbook (pdf) the group states:

Censorship is about more than a single book. It is about the intellectual, cultural and political life of the community and the people in it.

Each time a book is removed, it reinforces the idea that books and ideas are off-limits if someone doesn’t like them. It contributes to a culture where it’s better to hide from controversial or difficult topics, than to acknowledge or discuss them. Restricting or banning a book hurts kids and education, because teachers and librarians may decide not to teach or buy another similar book, even if they feel it would be educational or enjoyable.

Events are taking place across the nation through September 27, including "virtual read-outs" of challenged books.

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