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Celebrate Banned Books Week with the Library

Every September, we observe Banned Books Week to celebrate our freedom to read and spotlight current and historical attempts to censor books in libraries and schools. For 40 years, Banned Books Week has brought 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.

The books featured during Banned Books Week have all been targeted for removal or restriction in libraries and schools. By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship.

In a time of intense political polarization, library staff in every state are facing an unprecedented number of attempts to ban books. In 2021, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 729 challenges to library, school and university materials and services, resulting in more than 1,597 individual book challenges or removals.

Most targeted books were by or about Black or LGBTQIA+ persons.

The theme for Banned Books Week 2022 is “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.”

Sharing stories important to us means sharing a part of ourselves. Books reach across boundaries and build connections between readers. Censorship, on the other hand, creates barriers. Banned Books Week is both a reminder of the unifying power of stories and the divisiveness of censorship, and a call to action for readers across the country to push back against censorship attempts in their communities.

Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2021:

1. Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe

Reasons: Banned, challenged, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, and because it was considered to have sexually explicit images

2. Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison

Reasons: Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and because it was considered to be sexually explicit

3. All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

Reasons: Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content, profanity, and because it was considered to be sexually explicit

4. Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez

Reasons: Banned, challenged, and restricted for depictions of abuse and because it was considered to be sexually explicit

5. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, violence, and because it was thought to promote an anti-police message and indoctrination of a social agenda

6. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references and use of a derogatory term

7. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Reasons: Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and degrading to women 

8. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Reasons: Banned and challenged because it depicts child sexual abuse and was considered sexually explicit

9. This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson

Reasons: Banned, challenged, relocated, and restricted for providing sexual education and LGBTQIA+ content.

10. Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin

Reasons: Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and because it was considered to be sexually explicit.


Other Frequently Banned or Challenged Children's Books:

What is Banned Books Week?

Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in book challenges. It is usually held the last week of September to celebrate the importance of free and open access to information. It started in the United States and has been celebrated at libraries, schools, theaters, bookstores, and other locations around the country. There’s now a celebration of the right to read in the United Kingdom, and Banned Books Week events happen around the world.

Why are books challenged?

Materials are usually challenged with the best of intentions, often motivated by a desire to protect younger readers from “inappropriate” content. Books are challenged over sexual content, profanity, age appropriateness, violence, religious viewpoint, LGBTQ+ content, political bias, drug and alcohol use, suicide, and much more.

What is a challenge? What is a ban?

Book bans generally start with a challenge –– a verbal or formal written attempt to restrict access to materials or to remove them entirely. A ban happens when those materials are actually removed from shelves, classrooms, or performance spaces.

Who challenges and bans books?

Most challenges come from library patrons and parents, who raise concerns over content they find objectionable. Sometimes, a library or school staffer or administrator will bring a challenge. Politicians, political organizations, and religious groups have also targeted books, comics, plays, and more. On a few occasions, students have brought complaints to administrators.

The ultimate arbitrator of the challenge depends on the policies of the institution where a book is challenged. Many schools and libraries have a challenge policy that starts with a written complaint, which results in a review committee being convened to read and consider the material being challenged. Institutions without a thoughtful reconsideration protocol are far more likely to ban materials.


Other Frequently Banned or Challenged YA & Adult Books:

What is the New Orleans Public Library’s position on banning books?

As a rule, the Library does not ban books. We believe in intellectual freedoms and are committed to building a collection for all –– one that is free from censorship, regardless of individual beliefs.

The New Orleans Public Library endorses the principles of the Freedom to Read Statement, the Freedom to View Statement, and the Library Bill of Rights adopted by the American Library Association.

As proclaimed in the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution, freedom of expression, specifically the right to publish diverse opinions, is essential to the democratic form of government. A public institution committed to the principles of democracy and intellectual freedom, the Library recognizes its obligation to provide as wide a spectrum of materials as possible.

Diverse points of view, including controversial and unorthodox subjects, are available in this collection. Inclusion in the collection does not imply Library approval of or agreement with the contents.

Library materials are not marked or identified to show approval or disapproval of the contents, nor are materials sequestered except for the purpose of protecting them from damage or theft.

No restrictions are placed on what anyone may read, view, or listen to. Selection of materials to include in the collection will not be made on the basis of any anticipated approval or disapproval, but solely on the merits of the material in relation to building the collection and to serving the needs and the interests of all users.

Individuals or groups may occasionally question the inclusion of an item in the collection because of fear or doubt about the effects of the material on impressionable persons. Although the Library understands this concern, it is the Library’s position that the risk to society is far greater if public access to ideas and information is restricted. While anyone is free to select or reject materials for themselves or their own minor children or wards, the values of one will not be imposed on the many. Parents and legal guardians have the responsibility for their child’s or ward’s use of Library materials.

The Library is opposed to the removal from its shelves, at the request of any individual or group, materials which have been chosen according to the materials selection policy.

Reporting Censorship:

Censorship thrives in ignorance. The best way to prevent it is to make sure that free expression ad- vocates know it’s happening. Several members of the Banned Books Week Coalition are prepared to take direct action to fight censorship. Use the following contact information to let them know when books, comics, plays, art, and journalism are under threat.

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