CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Banned Books Week marks its 30th anniversary Sept. 30 to Oct. 6. This year's observance commemorates the most basic freedom in a democratic society -- the freedom to read freely -- and encourages us not to take this freedom for granted.
Since 1982, Banned Books Week has reminded us that while not every book is intended for every reader (or listener or viewer), each of us has the right to decide for ourselves what to read, hear or view. By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books and other forms of expression, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship.
In support of the right to choose books freely for ourselves, all Kanawha County Public Library locations will distribute bookmarks and set up displays of banned and challenged books.
These titles have all been targeted for removal or restrictions in libraries and schools. While books have been and continue to be banned, part of the Banned Books Week celebration is the fact that, in a majority of cases, the titles have remained available. It is thanks to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents and students that most challenges are unsuccessful and reading literature such as Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," Slaughterhouse Five, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the Harry Potter series and To Kill a Mockingbird remain available.
Since 1990, the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom has recorded more than 10,000 book challenges. A challenge is a formal, written complaint requesting a title be removed from library shelves or school curriculum. About three out of four of all challenges are to material in schools or school libraries. One in four is to material in public libraries. The Office for Intellectual Freedom estimates that less than one-quarter of challenges are reported and recorded.
The most challenged or restricted reading materials have been books for children. However, challenges are not simply an expression of a point of view; on the contrary, they are an attempt to remove materials from public use, thereby restricting the access of others. Even if the motivation to ban or challenge a book is well intentioned, the outcome is detrimental. Censorship denies our freedom as individuals to choose and think for ourselves. For children, decisions about what books to read should be made by the people who know them best -- their parents!
Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community -- librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers and readers of all types -- in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.
American libraries are the cornerstones of our democracy. Libraries are for everyone, everywhere. Because libraries provide free access to a world of information, they bring opportunity to all people. Now, more than ever, celebrate the freedom to read at your library! Read an old favorite or a new banned book this week.
Engelbert is director of the Kanawha County Public Library.