Banned Books Week 2023 kicks off on Sunday, and will run a full slate of events every day through October 7. The ALA's Intellectual Freedom Blog has a roundup of official Banned Books Week events, which this year will culminate with Let Freedom Read Day on Saturday, October 7, billed as the first ever Banned Books Week “day of action,” in which advocates will be encouraged to take such actions as call or write to local leaders and decision makers or buy or check out banned books.
For more than 40 years, ALA’s Banned Books Week has spotlighted attempts to censor books in libraries and schools, uniting librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers in support of free expression through a host of events. And this year, Banned Books Week comes at a crucial moment. Recent reports from the ALA and PEN America show that books challenges, fueled by an organized right wing political movement, are continuing to surge.
PEN America has also announced its Banned Books Week programs and initiatives. "With school book bans surging 33% over the past school year, this year’s Banned Books Week, Oct. 1-7, is being marked with greater urgency to reverse a growing crisis that is erasing ideas and topics in classrooms and libraries and silencing authors, especially underrepresented writers who are in the cross-hairs of censorship," a release reads.
As has the National Coalition Against Censorship: “With the continued rise of book censorship, there has never been a more critical time to rise up together in support of free expression and keep the censors at bay,” said NCAC executive director Lee Rowland in a release announcing the organization's slate of events.
Meanwhile, the Digital Public Library of America is taking the occasion of Banned Books Week to remind librarians of its digital Banned Book Club, which utilizes GPS-based “geo-targeting” to show readers books that have been banned in their area and makes e-book versions available to borrow. All that is required from readers is the Palace App (the DPLA's free e-reading application) and a free virtual library card, which users can sign up for via the app.
Very interesting data here: the EveryLibrary Institute (the companion research organization to the EveryLibrary national political action committee) released a new survey this week, conducted with Book Riot, that explores parent perceptions of book bans. The good news: 67% of respondents agreed that “banning books is a waste of time,” and 74% agreed that “book bans infringe on their right to make decisions for their children.” Titled the Public Libraries and Book Bans: Parent Perception Survey, the effort gathered insights from 853 parents and guardians with children under 18 during September 2023. "The survey asked parents and guardians to share their experiences and opinions about book bans, their trust in libraries and their understanding of librarians' book selection process, and their feelings on sensitive subjects in children's books, such as sex, LGBTQ+ characters and themes, race, and social justice issues in reading and literature."
In addition this week, EveryLibrary announced the appointment of author Julia Quinn as their first National Ambassador for 2023-2024. Quinn, an award-winning author, has written over 35 novels, graphic novels, and novellas, including the bestselling Bridgerton novels, which has become a hit Netflix series. Quinn will use her platform to fight against book banning. “Our right to read freely is under attack, and I cannot sit on the sidelines," she said, in a release.
At Book Riot, Danika Ellis handles this week's censorship news roundup, leading with coverage of the site's parent survey with EveryLibrary, focusing for this week on the positive findings. "One of the most clear and decisive responses in this survey was to the question of whether parents and guardians feel their children are safe at the library. For all the fear-mongering about 'pornography' in the kids’ section or librarians as 'groomers,' 92% said they do feel their kids are safe at the library," Ellis writes. "If you watch the school board meetings that go viral online, you’d think children in libraries are constantly being bombarded by explicit or upsetting material. Instead, two-thirds of respondents said that their child has never checked out a book that made them (the parent) or the child uncomfortable."
Also conveniently timed for Banned Books Week, the Daily Caller reports on a scathing August 21 letter by South Carolina State Library agency director Leesa Aiken pulling the state library out of ALA. Among her complaints, Aiken accuses ALA of being "tone deaf" in defending the freedom to read: "ALA's hyper-focus on groups of people at the exclusion of others has been problematic for Libraries, and has hindered their ability to engage with all members of their communities and government representatives."
Aiken's letter was written just days after the South Carolina Freedom Caucus urged her to withdraw the state library from ALA. And in case you're wondering who the South Carolina Freedom Caucus (and apparently the state library) thinks is being "excluded" from libraries (apparently at the urging of by ALA), it's pretty much right there in their letter, which cites "the ALA's deliberate hostility toward religious Americans and its obsession with the promotion of gender ideology to children." The letter goes on to accuse ALA of "the facilitation of drag queen story hours, the promotion of sexual content and gender ideology targeted to children, and the codification of the leftist social control mechanisms of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and critical race theory."
In the Washington Post, Hannah Natanson profiles "serial" book challenger Jennifer Petersen. "Petersen, 48, is part of a small army of book objectors nationwide. School book challenges reached historic highs in America in 2021 and 2022, according to the American Library Association. And just a handful of people are driving those records. A Washington Post analysis of thousands of challenges nationwide found that 60 percent of all challenges in the 2021-2022 school year came from 11 adults, each of whom objected to dozens—sometimes close to 100—of books in their districts," the article notes.
In Florida, independent journalist Judd Legum's Popular Information reports that librarians in Charlotte County were instructed by the school district superintendent to remove all books with LGBTQ characters or themes from school and classroom libraries: "The guidance made clear that all books with LGBTQ characters are to be removed even if the book contained no sexually explicit content."
In Wyoming, via the Cowboy State Daily, news that the other shoe has finally dropped: popular, longtime library director Terri Lesley is suing after she was abruptly fired for not pulling books from library shelves. "Terri Lesley on Wednesday filed a 44-page civil lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Wyoming against Hugh and Susan Bennett, and their son Kevin Bennett. The complaint accuses the Bennetts of targeting allies of a protected class (LGBTQ people), of conspiring to violate Lesley’s rights, of defaming Lesley and of inflicting emotional distress upon her," the lengthy, very detailed report notes.
The Bennetts were reportedly outspoken critics of Lesley's for refusing to pull books they believed inappropriate from library shelves: "The controversy over sexually graphic and LGBTQ-themed books in the Campbell County Public Library System, specifically the Gillette branch, began in 2021 and culminated in the library board firing Lesley on July 28, after Lesley refused to move contested books from the juveniles’ sections to adult sections."
The local Post Star reports on an all-too-familiar story these days: library staff being harassed. "The trouble started with the announcement of a scheduled drag queen story hour, which was supposed to take place at the library in April," the report notes. "Beginning the week after the event was announced on the library’s Facebook page...calls started coming in from people expressing very angry, and hate-filled opinions."
Via Gothamist, lawmakers are weighing action after a Brooklyn Public Library branch faced a bomb threat over a Drag Story Hour. "The discussions will take place days after a false bomb threat forced people to abandon a Drag Story Hour NYC event on Saturday in Brooklyn. 'I don’t like the notion of putting fear into people over something that is so innocent: reading a story,' Councilmember Rita Joseph, who represents the Brooklyn district where the incident took place, said."
And finally this week, at Library Journal, Claire Kelly has a piece questioning private equity firm KKR's ownership of OverDrive in the wake of its successful bid to acquire Big Five publisher Simon & Schuster. "Sandeep Vaheesan, legal director at the Open Markets Institute, an anti-monopoly research and advocacy group based in Washington, DC, believes there is more cause for concern," the piece notes. "If the acquisition goes through, KKR funds will own two parts of the publishing ecosystem, with significant market share, that do business with each other—a book publisher and a library e-book lending platform. As a result, Vaheesan expects a careful analysis of the acquisition by federal regulators."