In 2023, Banned Books Week is no longer a warning about what might happen if censorship goes unchecked, but what is happening.
Libraries and schools around the country are under attack, including violence and threats of violence, for providing reading materials and a safe space to enjoy them.
Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to read, and spotlights attempts to censor books in libraries, schools, and bookstores.
The American Library Association (ALA) maintains lists of books that have been targeted for removal or restriction in libraries and schools. By focusing on these efforts across the country, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship. The theme for Banned Books Week 2023 is “Let Freedom Read.”
The ALA reports that “in a time of intense political polarization, library staff in every state are facing an unprecedented number of attempts to ban books. ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom documented 1,269 demands to censor library books and resources in 2022, the highest number of attempted book bans since ALA began compiling data about censorship in libraries more than 20 years ago.”
That total was almost double the 729 challenges reported in 2021. The ALA said 2,571 unique titles were targeted, also a record, and that most of them were by or about LGBTQIA+ people, and / or Black, Indigenous, and people of color.
“The right to determine what we read and think is critical to our free and democratic society,” said Oceana Wilson, President of the Vermont Library Association. “It is imperative that we recognize that the consequences of banning books go far beyond withdrawing an individual book from circulation. These efforts represent a threat, involving the erasure of both people and history, to the foundation of American democracy.”
Most of the concerns expressed by Vermont librarians to date have been in terms of self-censorship; that is, libraries opting not to provide certain materials or programs out of fear of being targeted for abuse. Only by a unified effort can we stand strong to provide our readers and visitors the rich, varied, and welcoming content that they have the First Amendment right to read.
Please reach out to the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the Vermont Library Association if you need help with Banned Books Week or any other censorship issue. Email Intellectual Freedom Committee chair Randal Smathers at firstname.lastname@example.org or at email@example.com.