For a week in September, our community has the opportunity to challenge censorship and advocate free expression by participating in Banned Books Week.
At Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC), the book celebration started in 2006. Nationwide, the event has been celebrated for 30 years. Here on campus, extensive planning goes into the event. English Faculty member Erin Blomstrand is responsible for emailing faculty, helping with posters, advertising, and coordinating volunteers to tackle important tasks.
There are thousands of books on the list that have been challenged or banned in schools and libraries for their content. To counteract the restrictions of reading material, Banned Books events are centered around making those forbidden titles available for students, by hosting read-outs, book displays and constructing detailed book lists.
“For a period of time, there was a two-year hiatus, so we’re trying to bring back the interest. It was really big here for a while,” explained Blomstrand.
According to the American Library Association (ALA), material deemed offensive is typically pulled from libraries for the following reasons: nudity, occult references, age inappropriateness, insensitivity, racism, religious view points, sexual explicitness, and violence, among many other reasons.
Since the early '90s the ALA has tracked the number of books that have been either challenged or banned altogether; the approximate total is 10,000 different titles. The results of that tally are tentative since many titles have been under fire for centuries. 326 new titles were added to the list in 2011, and the ALA also speculates that of banned books, only 70-80 percent of the reported titles are documented.
Although the information within the pages of many popular books causes great upset amongst some religious groups, some parents and others, the reason for promoting and running Banned Books Week is to protect the right to read and learn. The wide availability of information to individuals who enroll in schools and wish to enlighten themselves and expand their knowledge is being challenged by the banning of important titles.
Blomstrand commented on the banning of books in colleges around the country; she explained that all students (even those who are under the age of 18) are considered adults within an institution that is catering to the interest and freedoms of those above legal age. Basically, college is not marketed toward children, so there is no reason to remove books from the library that may be considered inappropriate for children.
Blomstrand is dedicated to inspiring students to challenge themselves and think critically, as she claims, “I hope [students] walk away knowing that by participating or seeing the event and going to the library or buying a banned book that they are ensuring that these materials are available for other people. They’re being activists and don’t even know it.”
And what do the students think? “It’s great; I like to stay informed about what’s being challenged,” said EMCC student Ekram Abraham. During the conversation, Abraham mentioned that her favorite literary genres were science fiction and religion, which are fairly high in the ranking of books that are banned from schools. Popular series that explore the realms of the supernatural, such as Twilight and Harry Potter, are challenged due to thematic elements of witchcraft and the occult, which some religious groups do not find appropriate for books marketed toward children.
Most of the opposition about certain books comes directly from some concerned parents who are worried about the material their children are exposed to during school hours. Such parents expect educational institutions to be held responsible for the content that young people have access to; accordingly, banning books acts as a preventative measure against corrupting the minds of the youth while they are in a “safe” environment, such as school.
Although acting with seemingly positive intentions, their ideals are not always supported, “As far as banning books, I don’t agree with that. It’s the parents’ responsibility to monitor what they want their kids to read. Schools and libraries should not be held responsible or have to remove books,” Abraham explains.
Another student, Allison Escarcega, voiced her support for the event as well: “I’ve read about seven or eight books on the list already.” Although Escarcega started with little information about Banned Books Week, she still showed interest in checking out the displays in front of the library, “ I just heard about it [in general], but I did not know when it was or anything. I am taking a Children’s Literature class, and that is how I found out about this.”
Those looking for more information about this event are encouraged to visit their local library or the American Library Association’s webpage for statistics and a list of banned books.