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Banned Books Librarians Read

Here at Books We Read, we have shared several banned book posts over the past few weeks to celebrate Banned Books Week 2023. In addition, the New Brunswick Libraries (NBL) Learning Community (LC) had a fabulous speaker, Nancy Kranich, give us an extremely informative presentation on the history, legal and societal ramifications of Banned and Challenged Books on October 5.

To build support and interest in this event and Banned Books Week in general, the LC decided to poll NBL colleagues to see how banned and challenged books have impacted them by asking them to answer four questions:

  1. What is your favorite banned or challenged book(s)?
  2. What age were you when you read it?
  3. Why did you read it?
  4. Did you know the book was banned or challenged?

A total of twenty-four people responded, with results that were interesting and enlightening on many levels. No big surprise to discover that a group of library staff and faculty has read a varied number of banned and challenged books. Titles ranged from children’s books such as Charlotte’s Web, Ender’s Game and Harry Potter to young adult books such as Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and The Giver to classics including To Kill a Mockingbird and Fahrenheit 451. Many books were listed several times, including books by Judy Blume, those in the Harry Potter series, The Handmaid’s Tale and Nickel and Dimed.

One person said they weren’t aware of having read any banned or challenged books, which raises the point that these lists of banned and challenged books can change over time, depending on the year and regional location of the banning/challenging. Often times a beloved book ends up on a book banning list somewhere and we don’t even know it.

The largest percentage of respondents stated they read this favorite banned book between the ages of 15-30, which again isn’t really a surprise, as young adulthood is a time when many of us are branching out in terms of outlook and experiences. Many of the books mentioned are also required reading in middle and high schools across America (when they are not being banned of course). The next largest age group was 30-45 years old, with ages 0-15 coming in third, which I found a little surprising, as I thought the younger age group would garner a larger percentage.

Answers regarding the reason for reading the book varied from having to read it for a class or having a personal interest in the subject matter or author, to being curious about the book or the fact it was popular. Several people also noted the influence of a child, whether wanting to read the book to discuss with a son or daughter, because their child wanted to read the book, or because it was recommended by a child.

In terms of knowing if a book was banned or challenged, a much larger percentage (70%) said no, they were not aware, with 26% indicating yes, they were aware, and 4% saying maybe. So the theory that off-limits books are tantalizing didn’t really hold true here. Bottom line:  We should all have the choice of reading what we would like to, whether the subject matter is uncomfortable or unorthodox. The freedom to share, express and learn from ideas should not be suppressed by authority.

Check out more posts about banned and challenged books here, and visit the ALA Banned and Challenged Books website for more information, events and statistics.