NDSU Libraries are joining libraries around the U.S. in celebrating Banned Books Week, a tradition started in 1982 by Judith Krug and the American Library Association to bring attention to attempts to prevent access to books. In the last few years, challenges to reading material have increased. In 2020 there were 158 challenges, but by 2021 there were 729 challenges reported and 1,597 individual book challenges or removals. According to National Coalition Against Censorship “most targeted books were by or about Black or LGBTQIA+ persons.”
As a university, we may think we are safe from such efforts here in North Dakota, but there are worrisome trends around the country. Pen America, an organization founded in 1922 to defend free expression and promote literature and human rights, found that in tracking state legislation in 2022 “thirty-nine percent of bills in 2022 have targeted higher education.” Oklahoma’s HB 3702 passed and places restrictions on database vendors to prevent access to “obscene materials” and includes any “school district, charter school, virtual charter school, state agency, public library, or university” providing access. A similar bill, HF 467, was introduced in Minnesota but failed.
People have been pushing back against these calls to have materials removed. The Brooklyn Public Library started a project called Books Unbanned to allow anyone in the U.S. ages 13 to 21 apply for a digital library card. The purpose of the project is to provide teens and young adults access to the library’s entire ebook collection regardless of their location. Below are examples of the efforts by individuals and organization to fight censorship and some of the books that inspired these efforts.
Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut, 1969
The Kurt Vonnegut Museum offered 1000 copies of this classic to Florida high school students who lost access to the title in their schools. Julia Whitehead, founder and CEO of the museum, wrote, “Removing someone else's privilege of reading a book is an act that is worthy of rebellion."
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, 2017
This book about a 16-year-old girl who witnesses the police shooting of her friend was first challenged by a school district in Katy, Texas in 2017 for inappropriate language. Since that time, it has been listed in the ALA Top Ten Most Challenged Books every year expect 2019. In January 2022, the ROWVA, Virginia school board disallowed the teaching of the novel to freshmen. This led to a group of students distributing 400 copies of approximately 32 book titles during "FReadom Week" at several high schools. The board decided the book cannot be taught but can remain in the school library.
All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson, 2020
Attempts to remove this book from high school libraries by the Flagler County (Florida) School Board led to student protests, and two high school seniors running for the school board. Members of the public purchased 1,250 books for donation to school students, staff, and teachers.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, 2007
This is one of 22 books that was removed from the Nampa (Idaho) School District in June of 2022. It is also a title that was given away by Rediscovered Bookshop, and Flying M Coffee Garage in Nampa.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, 1985
Penguin Random House created a special, fire-resistant copy of the book which was auctioned on June 7th 2022 for $130,000. The proceeds went to PEN America, a writer’s organization that supports of free expression and fights book banning.
And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, 2005
Eva Murray, librarian of the remote Matinicus Island Library off the coast of Maine stated “We are buying banned books in order to publicly push back against the impetus to ban books. To say, ‘If you don’t want it in your library, we want it in ours.’” This include And Tango Makes Three, a children’s book based on the true story of two male penguins who raised a chick together at the Central Park Zoo.
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, 2006
The ACLU of Missouri sued the Wentzville (Missouri) School District on the behalf of two high school students after the district had books including Fun Home, and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. The Bluest Eye was eventually returned to the shelves. On August 30th, 2022 St. Louis judge Matthew T. Schelp dismissed the case.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, 2003 (English translation)
The Illinois Library Association presented Lane Tech College Prep High School with its Intellectual Freedom Award, after many students joined the school’s 451 Degrees Banned Book Club in protesting the removal of the Persepolis from class curriculum. An order to librarians and teachers to relinquish copies of the book was rescinded.
For more information, visit our Banned Books research guide.