Why is Banned Books Week important?


American Library Association

The Castilleja Library celebrated Banned Books Week from September 26th to October 2nd.

Banned Books Week is a big deal in the Castilleja library. The library is decorated; there are buttons to grab and, most importantly, the library highlights the banned books available on the shelves. It is a week for celebrating the freedom to read during which we acknowledge books that have been banned or challenged by schools and libraries.

The Castilleja library values the censorship of books for several reasons. Library TA Sonia Cherian ‘23 said that banned books are valuable to her because “when books are banned, any isolation and ignorance that exists in our society is intensified.” Another teacher’s assistant, Ash Ehrenpreis ‘23, stated that “reading stories that don’t relate to you but make you feel a certain way is a part of growth.” This intellectual growth is a foundational concept to learning at Castilleja and access to a wide variety of stories promotes growth. Censorship of stories, on the other hand, promotes a narrower view of the world.

Banning books specifically censors literature for young people. Castilleja School is known for encouraging young people to value multiple perspectives in literature. When you look at the lists of books most often challenged or banned, you see a pattern. Most of them are books that deal with issues that are uncomfortable and hard to talk about. Some people argue that children should not have access to stories on difficult topics. Ms. Seroff, one of Castilleja’s librarians, said that “there’s a lot of concern about what young people are learning sensitive topics such as race and racism and queer lives. Our purpose is to defend our community’s access to information.”

Important issues are often topics of banned books. The American Library Association’s list of commonly banned and challenged books fluctuates year to year, reflecting topical social issues. For example, this past year, 2020, the list of topics for which books were challenged reflected the prevalence of the Black Lives Matter movement. A few common reasons provided for challenging books were Political Viewpoint, Anti-Racism, and Anti-Police content. Alternatively, in previous years, while Anti-Police and Racist content were still on the list, reasons for challenging books focus more on LGBTQIA+ content. Common reasons for challenging books in 2019 were LGBTQIA+ content as well as content relating to Gender Dysphoria. These reasons are reflected in books that are often challenged such as All American Boys, a book about police brutality by Jason Reynolds, and George, a book about a young transgender girl by Alex Gino.

It is interesting to see that, throughout the commonly banned books from 2019 and 2020, Political Viewpoint, Brainwash Children, and Influencing Vulnerable Young People are all enduring reasons for challenging books. When asked about this pattern, Ash Ehrenpreis said, “censoring books that don’t fit with an authority figure’s point of view limits the points of view readers get to be exposed to.” Authority figures, such as teachers, librarians, and even politicians, often challenge books based on the beliefs of their community rather than encouraging young people to read about differing perspectives on issues.

The idea that diverse literature is brainwashing children implies that young people do not know how to be skeptical. Ms. Seroff felt that “censorship shows a distrust for readers, censors don’t think readers can make their own judgments and decisions.”

Diversity in literature helps broaden readers’ perspectives and helps them empathize with and understand the experiences of others. Ms. Seroff believes that “rather than shutting down through censorship we value multiple perspectives and opportunities to build empathy through narratives.” Overall, it is important to the librarians and teacher’s assistants in the library that the Castilleja community has access to content that causes intellectual growth and causes them to think in new ways.