Evanston Public Library thinks banned books – books that have been removed from a curriculum or library based on the objections of an individual or group – are no cause for celebration.
The library observes the annual Banned Book Week, Sept. 24-30 this year, to celebrate the opposite – the freedom to read – by calling attention to efforts to curtail that freedom.
EPL does not ban books, says Betsy Bird, Department Manager of Collection Development. In fact, she says, EPL has not had a censorship complaint since the Young Adult book “In the Name of God” drew one in 2008.
A book challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict reading material. The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom records public challenges cited by the media or submitted to the office but estimates that only 82-90% of book challenges are reported. The 323 reported in 2016 represent a 17% increase in book censorship complaints over those in 2015.
Each year the OIF publishes a list of the top 10 most challenged books. Most objections, Ms. Bird says, cite sexual content or violence. In 2016 several of the top challenges were books with LGBT characters, a rather recent trend, she says. Again this year, she says, “Little Bill,” an old series written by comedian Bill Cosby, is on the list because of criminal sexual allegations against the author.
A ban takes censorship one step further than a challenge: a banned book is one that has been removed. Beyond expressing a point of view, a ban aims to restrict others’ access. Only 10% of challenged books are actually removed.
Evanston Public Library is offering a sample of what all the fuss is about with “Books on the Chopping Block!” On Sept. 30 from 2 to 3:30 p.m., curious readers can take a sneak peek at some controversial literature. Professional actors from City Lit Theater Company will read short excerpts from the books that drew the most challenges in 2016, counting down from ten to one.