Banned Books Week (Sep 26 – Oct 2)

The illustration shows two hand clasping a book with the Earth the backdrop, with the text across the hands and book reading, "Books Unite Us." The rest of the text reads, "Banned Books Week. September 26-October 2, 2021. ALA American Library Association. The illustration is in shades of purple, lime green, and orange.

by Jean B.

 “Any time we eliminate or wall off certain narratives, we are not getting a whole picture of the world in which we live…we limit our vocabulary, which complicates how we communicate with one another.”  

– Jason Reynolds, the acclaimed Maryland author named Honorary Chair for Banned Books Week

A library may be held together with walls, but it’s the doors and windows that really matter — doors open for all people and windows that illuminate all perspectives. During Banned Books Week, we celebrate the freedom to read and the commitment by libraries, publishers, teachers, writers, and readers to promote access to materials that the ALA Freedom to Read Statement says, “enrich the quality and diversity of thought and expression.” Established in 1982, Banned Books Week responds to efforts across the country to challenge and censor books and focuses attention on how restricting access to information, ideas, and stories harms American cultural and political life.   

In a time when divisions cut across our nation like fault lines, the 2021 Banned Books Week theme reminds us that books can be a force for unity, even – or especially – when they convey a wide variety of views and experiences, including those that are marginal, unconventional, or unpopular. The freedom to read strengthens our ability to communicate with one another.

In a democracy, we trust individuals to learn and decide for themselves.  But to make informed choices, citizens require free access to all viewpoints and all kinds of ideas in the process of self-education. Where can people go for free access to ideas and information? Their public library! As essential institutions of democracy, public libraries implement intentional collection policies to ensure the breadth and inclusivity of materials available to their communities. For Howard County Library System, this translates into a collection that reflects a wide range of voices, including controversial and conflicting ideas.  

As the HCLS Board of Trustees affirms, while, “anyone is free to reject for [themselves] books or other materials of which [they] do not approve, [they] cannot exercise this right to restrict the freedom of others.” The freedom to read strengthens our citizenship. Each year, the American Library Association (ALA) publishes a list of the ten most frequently challenged or banned books across the nation. This snapshot reflects only a small percentage of the challenges that take place in schools and libraries.  The ALA estimates that 82 – 97 percent of requests to remove materials are unreported. As this list illustrates, the challenges come from all directions and perspectives. The freedom to read protects all points of view.

So this year, in honor of Banned Books Week, open the library door and explore our extensive collections.  Look through the windows of stories into all different kinds of lives, familiar and unfamiliar.  Explore HCLS’ Brave Voices, Brave Choices campaign to discover a wide range of experiences in our own community. It’s all free to you, and you are free to choose.

Jean B. is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch and loves reading books for all ages when she isn’t enjoying the outdoors.

Community Engagement for Equity

A woman with long dark hair holds a sign that reads, "Listen. Respond positively. Be courageous! Show Compassion!"
Smiling woman holding a motivational message from the Longest Table event.

by Katie DiSalvo-Thronson

Learn about what’s local!

This fall we designed and launched a new series of programs to educate customers about local diversity, equity, and inclusion issues, and connect participants to organizations taking action on those topics.

Why? Our mission to provide high-quality education for all must include education about our own community! As local news coverage has decreased, it is especially imperative to create conversations and presentations where our shared experience as Howard County residents is discussed and analyzed. We hope you come learn with us, and that our programming helps you contribute to our community.

Look forward to events on the county council’s Racial Equity Taskforce and more.

Learn about your neighbors!

In strategic planning events held with over 500 residents in 2019 and early 2020, HCLS staff heard loud and clear that people are interested in ways to learn about each other. People said they want opportunities to bridge what can feel like racial, cultural, and political divides in the country and build more community. At the excellent 2020 virtual Longest Table, participants voiced this request again.

Howard County is asking HCLS to make spaces for people to connect with and learn from each other. Look ahead to more programming in 2021 with small group discussion, especially on diversity, equity, and inclusion topics.

Additionally, HCLS will be launching a story collection effort on racial equity issues. We have two goals. First, we hope to build community – that sharing and listening to stories will increase our understanding of each other, provide recognition of diverse experiences, and spur new relationships. Second, we seek impact. We will use our stories to understand local diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts more precisely. We will publicly share stories and community-led analysis of these stories to help inform local decision-making. We can’t wait to start this process with you.

Stay tuned at hclibrary.org and through HiLights, our weekly email newsletter.

Katie is the Community Education and Engagement Manager for HCLS. She loves people, the big questions, the woods, and chocolate.