Book community celebrating the freedom to read during Banned Books Week

KBTX First News at Four(Recurring)
Published: Sep. 23, 2022 at 7:22 PM CDT
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CHICAGO, Illinois (KBTX) - Banned Book Week 2022 is September 18 through 24. The annual event draws attention to efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to certain books, and Texas holds the record for more books banned in its school districts than any other state.

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, Director of American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, joined First News at Four to share more about banned books and why she advocates for the freedom to seek and express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

Banned Books Week was launched over 40 years ago in 1982 in response to a surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries.

For Caldwell-Stone, the week means holding “close that precious liberty that we have to think and choose and read for ourselves, but also to highlight the fact that we’re still seeing censorship arise.”

Banning books happens when a government organization or employee takes action to remove a book from a school or public library based on its content after challenges from parents or lawmakers. This is usually because they have a political, religious or moral disagreement with the book. Texas has banned 801 books across 22 school districts according to a report by PEN America. Find a list of books that have been challenged and banned in Texas here.

“Yes, it’s their right to raise these concerns about a book and ask that the book be reevaluated in light of the written policies established by the library board or the school board, but librarians do a great job of adhering to those policies, making sure that books acquired for the library meet the information needs of the readers who are intended to read the book,” said Caldwell-Stone.

She believes there is a fair process that librarians use which most of the time results in the book being retained on the shelf, but recently there’s been a response to political pressures and social media advocacy, causing books to be pulled. Last October, Texas state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, sent a list of 850 books about race and sexuality to Texas schools asking them to check their shelves for these titles. His list also featured books with mentions of racism and the Holocaust.

It is possible for a book ban to be removed, as was seen in Wichita Falls in the early 2000s. The case featured two library books about same sex couples, “Heather Has Two Mommies” and “Daddy’s Roommate.” The court in Wichita Falls ruled that it was unconstitutional to place those books on a restricted shelf to prevent young people from reading them.

“The court set aside the ordinance that allowed those books to be placed on a restricted shelf, and noted that like public libraries in particular are government entities governed by the first amendment, and that users have a right to read the books in the library without restriction,” explained Caldwell-Stone.

Many of the books that were once banned are considered classics, and some are still banned today. “Grapes of Wrath,” “Ulysses,” “Catcher in the Rye” and “Slaughterhouse-Five” have all been targets of the censor in the past.

Caldwell-Stone worries that many of the books targeted today reflect the lives and experiences of minorities. These groups have historically been “underrepresented on the shelves of libraries” and banning books about them will only further this trend.

Watch the full interview in the player above.