BANNING BOOKS: AN EGREGIOUS FORM OF CENSORSHIP
Libraries connect readers to information, ideas, learning, knowledge, and development. Washington State Library, a division of the Office of the Secretary of State, helps ensure people have unfettered access to information at hundreds of public, school, academic, and institutional libraries across Washington. This commitment is rooted in the fundamental principle that an educated and informed citizenry is critical to a free society.
But in today’s increasingly polarized political climate, an alarming trend to ban books from schools and community libraries has become a detrimental force in American society.
Book banning occurs when private individuals or special-interest groups demand that a book be removed from libraries, school reading lists, or bookstore shelves because they object to its theme or content, or fear that certain books may be inappropriate for young readers. Advocates often justify their demands in the name of “protection.” In this posture, they are judging what is appropriate for everyone based on their own beliefs and opinions. They are, in a sense, telling people what and what not to read.
Book banning is censorship. In fact, authorities on the Constitutional right to free speech consider book banning perhaps the most widespread form of censorship in the United States. People should decide for themselves what to read based on their interests, sensibilities, and values. No one — apart from parents for their children — should have the right to suppress what other people read or to make those decisions for others. Book banning infringes on everyone’s intellectual rights and threatens the core of our freedoms.
Also, banning books narrows readers’ worldview. When reading materials and other literary content become inaccessible, people lose opportunities to explore their identity, learn history, discover community, and more. Book bans hinder our ability to learn about different people as well as ourselves. They compromise children’s education and stunt people’s natural curiosity about the world.
Books serve as a gateway to life experiences, empowering readers to understand different places, cultures, religions, perspectives, and ideas. Books help foster acceptance; empathy and appreciation for others; and greater physical, social, and emotional development, which is why libraries are more than just a repository for books and other content. They are a community resource and sanctuary for people who love to learn and explore.
Librarians are trained to select a wide variety of materials to cover a range of subjects that reflect diverse experiences and perspectives. Washington State Library does not select content based on its librarians’ personal beliefs, nor does it believe that the choice of content should be dictated by any advocacy or special-interest group.
A recent American Library Association poll found that 71% of respondents across the political spectrum oppose book banning. Most respondents appreciate their libraries, are confident libraries make good collection decisions, and believe libraries offer materials that encompass a variety of diverse viewpoints and subjects.
A library is a cornerstone of its community, school, university, or detention facility. Washington State Library and libraries across the state open their doors to a world of knowledge and imagination for millions of Washingtonians every day. Visit ala.org/advocacy/bbooks or sos.wa.gov/library for more information.