by Sahana C.
Banned Books Week is a party. We celebrate our unfettered access to whichever books we choose.
The national theme of Banned Books Week stands firm in its message against censorship. When it began in 1982, Banned Books Week was not a protest, but a reaction to an increasing number of book challenges. Banned Books Week is a space away from the intensity of media speculation and divisive press coverage.
The American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom tracked almost 1,600 books that were challenged in 2021 alone, but Banned Books Week is not when those challenges are contested. It is, in the words of the official website, a time for, “shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”
The ALA is one of the loudest proponents of this effort as it supports the declaration from libraries to wholly commit to combat disinformation, promote the perspectives of historically excluded groups, and increase access to information. This is the mandate of public libraries, written into the mission statement of Howard County Library System: “We deliver high-quality public education for all.”
It is our responsibility to provide access to materials that encourage conversation and provoke thought; every addition to our collection is a choice, and decisions are never neutral. HCLS continues this practice with its Brave Voices, Brave Choices initiative. We have committed to not hiding hard conversations from our community. Discussions about appropriateness usually center the idea of balance, meaning we amplify the voices of people from historically excluded, marginalized, and unheard communities. Libraries cannot be neutral in this effort toward radical inclusion.
Kelvin Watson, director of libraries in Broward County, Florida, put it well: “Claiming neutrality endangers us as an institution by resulting in an unconscious adoption of the values of the dominant political model and framework… (w)e cannot be neutral on social and political issues that impact our customers because…these social and political issues impact us as well.” While a policy of neutrality appears to be equal, it is not equitable – it does not allow for different facets of our community to see themselves represented meaningfully, without stereotype, by people who share their life experiences.
We, as a library, stand to protect the brave voices who write, publish, and lead us into a more equitable future. We, in turn, make the brave choice to stand against the idea that we can be neutral in the battle against misinformation. The library is a steward of knowledge, led for and by the community it serves.
So, join the party! Everyone’s invited.
Sahana is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Savage Branch. She enjoys adding books to her “want to read” list despite having a mountain of books waiting for her already.