Banned Books Week is an annual event that celebrates the right to read and highlights the importance of free and open access to information. Started in 1982, Banned Books Week was a response to an increase in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores, and libraries around the nation (according to the American Library Association, more than 11,000 books have been challenged in the last three decades). This year, Banned Books Week is September 25 – October 1.
The Cooperative Children’s Book Center is a unique study and research library of University of Wisconsin–Madison’s School of Education that confidentially assists librarians and teachers around the state who are met with potential or actual book challenges, through its Intellectual Freedom Information Services. While the CCBC does not take a position on the material being challenged, it does provide specially compiled information packets about the title. The CCBC encourages teachers or librarians who have been approached about a book to make contact early in the process. Once contacted, the packet of information, which includes professional reviews, awards and distinctions, and articles about the title, is sent within 24 hours to the individuals handling the challenge.
Megan Schliesman, a librarian with the CCBC, says the goal of the IF Information Service, started in 1977, is to provide the appropriate parties with the information necessary to have an educated conversation about the material in question. She says most of the calls they receive are from public or K-12 libraries dealing with an individual who has made or is considering a challenge. Schliesman notes it’s the CCBC’s goal to provide support through facts, data, and education.
“Wisconsin librarians and teachers work every day to provide children and teens with access to a wide range of materials to meet their needs and interests,” Schliesman says. “We hope the work we do and the information we provide will help them support the First Amendment rights of minors if a concern or complaint arises.”
She says above all else, the goal is to have the involved parties take a step back and look at the greater picture. It’s about encouraging a process of discussing a challenge with a clear mind, focusing on the procedures in place at the library or school.
“We also hope it will help the teacher or librarian feel less alone during a time that can be incredibly stressful,” Schliesman says. “We don’t take a position on the material or the situation–materials concerns and challenges are local and should remain local–but having a place to turn to get assessment information about material that has been questioned can also free them to focus on the communication issues that are so critical when concerns arise.”
The UW–Madison Libraries are also committed to ensuring access to materials, even controversial items. The Libraries concur with the American Library Association’s decision to promote freedom to choose and the freedom to express one’s opinions, as well as stress the importance of ensuring the availability of those viewpoints to all who wish to read them. As part of Banned Books Week, College Library is highlighting a selection of popular titles and challenged classics. Many of the titles in this collection have faced challenges, or an attempt to remove or restrict access to this particular piece by an individual or a group. The titles may be targeted for various reasons, whether it’s adult content, or not being age appropriate.