Banned Books Week is an annual celebration of the important role American libraries play in ensuring that all library users have free access to the materials they need, without fear of censorship or repercussion. It’s easy to think of censorship as something that happened in the past or happens in other places, but every year the American Library Association receives reports of hundreds of challenges from around the country. A challenge is what libraries call it when someone asks that a book be removed from the library’s collection, challenging the rights of other library users to access that information.
The phrase “banned book” suggests an authority figure outlawing a book for their own political gain or a strict librarian deciding that a book isn’t good enough to deserve a place in the library. In reality, most of the challenges reported to the American Library Association start with an ordinary library user who finds something in the library they disagree with and assumes that other library users share, or should share, their views.
The library exists for all members of the community and must serve them all equally. That means no individual gets to determine what others get to read. A book that offends one person may be very important to others. Libraries support the idea of intellectual freedom — each person’s freedom to read, think, and believe whatever they want. It’s this freedom that we celebrate each year during Banned Books Week.