In high school, most read books such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Great Gatsby;” in fact, it seems so commonplace that many forget how often the very same books are banned from schools for being unsuited towards children and young adults.
Banned Books Week is an annually held event, taking place nationwide since 1982. Individual schools and organizations can choose to take part in festivities relating to the week. According to the American Library Association, more than 11,300 books have been challenged by bookstores, libraries and schools since 1982.
Millersville is one of the schools that challenges the idea of banning books, and was one of the schools to host the week-long event, spanning from Sept. 27 to Oct. 3. This is the first Banned Books Week that Millersville has hosted, and the event saw abundant praise from students, teachers and the surrounding community.
Some of the festivities that took place were “mugshots” with banned books, panels and discussions, as well as an artist visiting to help students make a sculpture from frequently banned books.
“We had a local artist, Mimi Shapiro – who is amazing and who really went above and beyond to help us with all of our events – come lead students in creating altered book art from old books, paint and nails, among other things. They also created poetry from old book pages, and everyone left behind written notes and thoughts on book banning that Mimi turned into a poem for us! All of their work is actually on display in the library’s lobby right now,” said Elizabeth Nelson, an adjunct research librarian at MU and member of the Banned Books Week planning committee.
Not all students have been subjected to banned books, however, this event proved to show that it’s a lot more common than one may think. “It’s easy to forget that books are still being banned, censored, and even burned for their content,” Nelson said. “It’s been really moving to see the response from our community in protesting censorship and preserving our freedom to read.”
However, the freedom to read is being taken away from many students, children and young adults alike. When a book is challenged, it can be taken from libraries, bookstores and schools, which is damaging as a whole.
“There are still many children’s and young adult books, like “Harry Potter,” “And Tango Makes Three” and “The Fault in Our Stars,” to name a few, that are routinely challenged; beyond that, one of the most common reasons given for any book challenge is that the material could be inappropriate or harmful for children or teenagers,” Nelson said. “I have to imagine that, in many cases, these censors are parents who want to protect their children from material they feel would be harmful for them to read, but banning a book isn’t just deciding what is appropriate for your own children to read; by removing these materials from libraries, they are dictating what is appropriate for anyone to read.”
Nelson also spoke of the vulnerabilities that libraries possess, noting that if a library can’t defend its collection, that select books are susceptible to removal. “That’s one reason why public, loud, fun events like Banned Books Week are so important – many of the students we met over the week had never heard before that books could still be banned or removed from libraries. Informing people about this danger and gathering together to protest against book bans now is the first step toward curbing or eliminating book bans in the future,” Nelson said.
The event drew in students and teachers alike; even Millersville students know the importance of not censoring media, especially books. “Almost all media should be available with the guidance of educators or parents,” said Chelsea Nolan, an MU sophomore, said. “It’s my belief that opening dialogue with children about topics they might not experience everyday, even if they are heavier topics, makes a child more well-rounded and capable.”
While Nelson and Nolan haven’t personally been restricted in their readings, they both agreed that the freedom to read is essential. This year’s Banned Books Week drew in a large crowd and gained a lot of attention; Nelson hopes this will be an annual event.
“We really appreciate the tremendous show of support we’ve received this year from students, faculty, staff, and the Millersville community for our first ever (and hopefully first annual) Banned Books Week celebration!” Nelson said. “It’s been amazing to talk to everyone at these events, to hear about their favorite banned books, to see them making art and speaking out to stop censorship, and to see students showing so much affection and pride for these stories and the impact they’ve had on all our lives.”