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With the number of book bans increasing at a rapid pace and becoming evermore divisive, the attention to Banned Books Week, which runs September 18-24, 2022, is more important than ever. The American Library Association’ (ALA)’s officials reported 729 challenges in 2021, making it the highest number of challenges tracked since the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom began keeping stats some 20 years ago. Along those lines, from July 2021 to June 2022, PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans lists 2,532 instances of individual books being banned, affecting 1,648 unique book titles. 

Since its founding in 1982, Banned Book Week has highlighted the value of free and open access to information. This week-long celebration, sponsored by the ALA, Amnesty International, and other free speech organizations, brings 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.

Recently banned titles include perennial classics such as the work of Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, J.K Rowling, and Harper Lee.

In the past, certain books, like Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, have consistently made banned book lists. But recently, there’s been a shift, with 41 percent of books explicitly addressing LGBTQ+ themes or featuring protagonists or prominent secondary characters who are LGBTQ+, according to PEN America’s index. Additionally, 40 percent contain protagonists or prominent secondary characters of color.

The recently released ALA’s Field Report 2021: Banned and Challenged Books details the work of organizations such as Moms for Liberty, No Left Turn in Education, the Manhattan Institute, and the Heritage Foundation in censoring books with a particular focus on schools and libraries. Librarians and educators across the United States warn about this increase in book banning that now includes individuals and organizations filing criminal complaints in places like Flagler County, Florida and Wyoming.  

And in many instances, communities aren’t seeing outright book bans, but rather, school library policies passed by conservative-leaning school boards, making it difficult for librarians and teachers to do their jobs because the requirements are vague.

That’s what OnlySky Editor (and mom of four) Kristen Mei Chase recently wrote about in an op-ed for The Washington Post. In her community, located in the suburbs of Philadelphia, the school board passed a “library materials policy” requiring librarians to check their lists before ordering books, and offering a simple way for community members and parents to challenge books and get them replaced. And because it’s not technically a book ban, many parents and community members aren’t on as high alert as they should be.

Parents and community members need to know that books are still getting banned, perhaps not in the way that you might expect, but it’s still happening. These vague policies are doing exactly what experts said they would do: make it extremely hard for  important texts—ones chosen by certified librarians—to get into the hands of students.

Kristen Mei Chase

In her piece, she points to ways people can fight back against these types of policies and book bans. From understanding the policies being proposed (or passed) and making your voice heard, to purchasing the books and reading them at home to ensure these works continue to find an audience, there are many things people can do. Simply hosting community awareness events, such as this event in Bucks County where Chase will be speaking, is effective.

In 2022, simply buying the banned books, or dismissing bans because they often drive sales of books, is not enough. Yes, kids can find all these titles on the internet, but that’s not the point. During this tumultuous election cycle, the right to free speech as protected by the First Amendment cannot be guaranteed. Preserving this fundamental right should not be viewed from a partisan lens but rather seen as a rallying cry to uphold the very fundamentals of democracy.

First, they come for your books. You do know what’s next, right? 

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As a freelance writer with dual MDiv/MSW degree from Yale Divinity School/Columbia University, I focus on the rise of secular spirituality, religious satire, spiritual health & wellness, faith &...