Libraries focus on books challenged during “Banned Book Week”
NEW ULM — For nearly 40 years, the American Library Association (ALA) has used the last week in September to celebrate Banned Books Week.
The annual event was launched in the 1980s during a time of increased challenges and organized protests against books. The ALA and other groups have been promoting the event each year to celebrate the freedom to read. This year, Banned Book Week runs from Monday, Sept. 27 through Oct. 3.
In addition to promoting Banned Books Week, the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom receives and compiles reports from libraries, schools and the media on attempts to ban or remove books from a collection. These attempts are called challenges. The ALA has published a list of the top challenged books in America every year since 2001. These lists are available at the ALA website (ala.org).
Last year ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 377 challenges to library, school and university materials. The top 10 books cited by these challenges were “And Tango Makes Three,” by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson; the “Harry Potter” series by J.K. Rowling; “Drama” by Raina Telgemeir; “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood; “I am Jazz” by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings; “Prince & Knight,” by Daniel Haack; “Sex is a Funny Word,” by Cory Silverberg; “A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo,” by Jill Twiss; “Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out,” by Susan Kuklin and “George,” by Alex Gino.
No recent book challenges have been reported at New Ulm Public Library, High School Library, or Martin Luther College. The last challenge coming to the public library was from a patron who submitted a written request to remove “The Beach at Night,” by Elena Ferrante.
“The Beach at Night” is a children’s book told from the perspective of a doll left on a beach. The book was originally written in Italian and translated into English. The concern at the time was about the appropriateness of the language in the book being in the children’s section. Ultimately the library chose to keep the book in the children’s section. Concerns over age-appropriateness usually the most common reason for a challenge.
The majority of books on the 10 ten most challenged list were written for children or teen readers. Several are classified as picture books with illustrations. Material intended for youth often faces the greatest scrutiny.
According to New Ulm Public Library Director Paulina Poplawska, “Junior Fiction and Young adults book cause great concern. Usually, the concern is about how it is classified, not so much about removing it from the collection.”
Youth Services Librarian Kathryn Tatnall said books in the library are not labeled beyond genre. It can be difficult to hit the correct age appropriateness because the youth section ranges from birth to age 13.
“As a library, we don’t censor,” Poplawska said. The library will not restrict access to a book to any person. If a child wants to check out a book in an older age range, the library will not prohibit them. Poplawska said the library does encourage parents to talk with kids about choices in reading material but will leave decisions of what is appropriate to family.
The New Ulm Public library does have a formal process for reviewing challenges to the material. If a patron wants the library to reconsider materials. The request must come in writing. This allows the library to review and respond to the patron about their concerns. Patrons can also request a book to be added to the collection if is not already on the shelf.
Poplawska said the library is happy to take suggestions on what could be added. She believed the library had an excellent crew responsible for selecting new materials. The goal is to have a wide variety of materials that piques the pubic interest.
MLC’s library also strives to have a wide variety of materials and does have several of the most challenged books in its collection. MLC Library Director Linda Kramer said, “because we are training teachers we want to expose them to a variety of literature.”
As teachers, it will benefit MLC students to be aware of the different books and be prepared to respond and discuss controversial books. For this reason, the MLC library does not restrict works.
Kramer said her library has not faced a challenge in the seven years she worked at MLC but said there had a policy that anyone submitting a challenge must read the book.
“We ask that you read the book entirely,” she said. Sometimes issues could come up from a person reading a passage out of context and not understanding the work as a whole.
It is not unusual for the most controversial books to be the most popular.
“Some of the most banned books are those most read,” said Kathryn Tatnall, Public Library Youth Service Librarian. “You have to read it first to have objections over it.”
For years, the Harry Potter series was among the most challenged books. From 2000 to 2009 the Harry Potter books made the top 10 of most challenged. The books fell off the top 10 list until last year.
One of New Ulm Public Library’s most popular books is “Drama,” by Raina Telgemeir. It is currently the #8 most challenged book according to the ALA. “Drama” is a graphic novel written by Telgemeier, an American cartoonist, which centers on the story of Callie, a middle schooler and theater-lover who works in her school’s drama production crew.
“It is hugely popular,” Tatnall said. “We can’t keep that on the shelf.” As of the writing of this article, “Drama” is checked out from the library as are other books by Telgemeir. She is an extremely popular author with New Ulm youth. The book might be hard to come by at the public library, but the New Ulm High School Library has two copies of “Drama” that are currently available.
Some of the books on the most challenged list are available at either the public library, the high school library, or MLC. Those that are not available can be borrowed through an interlibrary loan. The Traverse des Sioux Library Cooperative has an extensive collection available to library patrons.
The ALA notes that even though attempts to ban books continue each year, in the majority of cases the books are never removed from collections and remains available. Banned Books Week is also a celebration that the First Amendment continues to work despite challenges.
Banned Books Week continues through Oct 3.