Hannah Michelle Bussa
Banned Books Week was celebrated Sept. 26 to Oct. 2 this year.
Sam Petto, the Communications Director for the ACLU of Nebraska, said Banned Books Week is an annual celebration of the freedom to read and a reminder that local governments and school districts all too often attempt to ban books when they dislike their ideas, their words or the viewpoints they feature.
“The week is important because it reminds us that we all need to take an active role in defending open access to information and our right to free expression,” he said.
Tammi Owens, the Outreach and Instruction Librarian and Associate Professor at UNO, said many of the books that end up on most-challenged lists contain diverse content.
“These diverse perspectives offer windows into other lives or echo our own experiences, and it’s so important for everyone to have access to those stories,” she said. “Perhaps especially so for people, young adults in particular, who see themselves in those stories but live in communities with people who may want to censor those ideas.”
The American Library Association keeps track of the efforts to ban books. Petto said these numbers show common themes.
“Books featuring the perspectives of people who are LGBTQ, people of color and people belonging to certain faith traditions are most frequently challenged,” he said. “What does that tell us? Censorship often targets the viewpoints of those who are already most marginalized. To fix our most challenging societal issues, we need education and free expression, not censorship.”
Petto said it is fortunate that government censorship is unconstitutional.
“The law is absolutely clear on that point and groups like the ACLU are here to defend your First Amendment rights when they’re violated,” he said.
Many popular books have been banned.
“It sounds bizarre to anyone who had childhood dreams of getting their letter from Hogwarts, but nationally, the ACLU has defeated efforts to take the Harry Potter series out of school libraries,” Petto said.
Omaha author Rainbow Rowell’s book “Eleanor & Park” has been challenged in several school districts. Petto said Rowell links resources on her website to help students resist those censorship efforts.
Beth Black, the owner of The Bookworm, said Banned Books Week is important to remind people of the importance of free speech and the expression of ideas.
“Often, the objection to a specific book, especially in the schools, comes from a single person who is imposing their beliefs and opinions on the majority,” she said. “I feel that the objection of one should not be imposed on the masses.”
Black said open communication allows both parties to express their ideas and beliefs, while the lack of communication is both divisive and destructive. Censoring ideas ends communication.
“As an independent bookstore owner and as an American citizen, I do feel that censorship is wrong,” she said.
She said books shouldn’t simply be judged by today’s standards. Books written decades ago still need to be discussed, while keeping in mind the time in which it was written.
“We’ve come a long way, but it’s important to remember where we came from,” she said.
Petto said Banned Books Week isn’t just about books — it’s about free expression and having the right to discuss and consider all kinds of ideas and information.
“That right takes constant defending,” he said. “Case in point: UNO students recently helped stop a University of Nebraska Board of Regents resolution that would have chilled classroom conversations of racism and whitewashed history.”
Petto said state leaders have already said they’ll attempt to pass similar legislation next year focusing on K-12 schools, denying those students an inclusive education.
“Ideas are powerful and it’s not the government’s role to pick winners and losers in the marketplace of ideas,” he said. “That’s why we’ll always be ready to defend your right to free expression.”
The top ten most banned books for the past twenty years can be found here.