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University Libraries

40th Annual Banned Books Week

By Diane Osman

In recognition of the value of free and open access to information, the University of Dayton Libraries are observing Banned Books Week Sept. 18–24.

Since its emergence in 1982, Banned Books Week has encouraged librarians, booksellers, authors, publishers, teachers and readers to celebrate and defend the freedom to read. 

Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community in shared support of the choice to seek and express ideas and expose the harms caused by censorship. This year is the 40th anniversary of Banned Books Week — a reminder of the persistence of book censorship.   

Banned Books Week 2022

The theme this year is “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.” The image of caged birds reminds us that censorship divides us from information and from each other. The honorary chair for 2022 is George M. Johnson, an award-winning Black nonbinary activist and author of The New York Times bestselling young adult memoir All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020) and We Are Not Broken (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2021).

“Being the honorary chair for Banned Books Week is important to me because I know what it is like to grow up and not have stories about my own lived experience nor the truth outside of a historical context,” Johnson says. “This is a fight for the truth that has always existed even if it rarely gets told. When the youth are empowered with stories about the experiences of others, they become adults who understand the necessity for equity and equality and have the tools to build a world the likes of which we have never seen.” 

What and Who Gets Challenged?

The American Library Association (ALA)  says that the 10 most challenged books in 2021 were books that tell the story of black and LGBTQIA+ people or are written by authors from those communities. Johnson’s book was banned and challenged for its LGBTQIA+ content, which means they join the list of other authors disproportionately targeted for censorship.

Jerry Craft, well-known author of New Kid and Class Act, commented that his books were challenged because they were cited as teaching critical race theory. Most of these targeted books do not address critical race theory; they are merely written by and/or about people of color. Critical race theory is an academic concept created over 40 years ago examining the way race and racism intersect with politics, culture and law. In recent years, its meaning has been broadened to include any education that involves teaching about race and intersectionality. Consequently, a large number of writers of color and LGBTQIA+ authors have been affected by this broader definition.

ALA’s Important Role

The ALA, established in 1876, opposes censorship and is committed to protecting free access to information. In 1990, the ALA created the Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF), which keeps a database of challenged materials. Today, this list is assembled from information on social media and individual reports submitted to the office. The ALA provides support to libraries and individuals when dealing with book challenges. The OIF website has a challenge reporting form, consulting services, training, webinars and other resources for libraries.

Reports don’t give the full picture, however; surveys show that 82 to 97% of book challenges are unreported and don’t appear in the news or social media.

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the OIF, says she is disheartened at the organized campaign to remove the voices of marginalized communities from the shelves of school libraries.

“We’re particularly disheartened that elected officials who do have a duty to uphold the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are pressing forward with efforts to remove these books as well,” Caldwell-Stone says. “Using censorship as a tool is a denial of that liberty, particularly the liberty of the young people who are targeted by these book bans.”

What Can You Do?

  1. Read a banned or challenged book. 
  2. Report challenges to materials, resources and services to the OIF. Reports are crucial for developing the best methods to advocate for library resources and to guard against challenges in advance.
  3. Vote. Tuesday, Sept. 20, is National Voter Registration Day. We encourage people to join the fight against censorship by confirming their voter registration, registering to vote, and/or hosting a voter registration event.
  4. Support the role of libraries. The Library Bill of Rights states in Article III, “Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.” It is necessary to make sure that the point of view of one person or group is not dictating what everyone reads.
  5. The ALA suggests other excellent ways to get involved.

Further reading

Diane Osman is a member of the University Libraries diversity and inclusion team. Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association,

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