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By the Numbers: Banned Books Week

September 30, 2011 by Holly Munson


(Photo from American Library Association)

Editor’s Note: By the Numbers is a new feature of Constitution Daily that extracts thought-provoking data from the news. Whether you’re following us in school, at your place of work, or at home, By the Numbers provides data you can use to shape an opinion or start a civic conversation.

Did you ever read "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" as a kid? How about "To Kill A Mockingbird"? Or one of the "Harry Potter" books?

This week is Banned Books Week, an event that spotlights past and ongoing efforts to ban or challenge particular books--including the titles mentioned above--to demonstrate the importance of the freedom to read and the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. The American Library Association notes, "Intellectual freedom--the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular--provides the foundation for Banned Books Week." Here's a look at the challenging of books from the past decade, By the Numbers:

4,660 - total challenges of books in American libraries1,536 - challenges due to "sexually explicit" material (the most oft-cited reason for banning a book, followed by "offensive language" and "unsuited to age group")48 - percent of challenges that were initiated by parents37 - percent of challenges of books that were in classrooms30 - percent of challenges of books that were in school libraries4 - number of Judy Blume's books among the 100 most frequently challenged books1 - rank of "And Tango Makes Three," by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, on the 2010 challenged books list

The celebration of Banned Books Week does have some detractors--one columnist argued that it unfairly maligns parents concerned about what their children are reading: "If you complain that your 8-year-old kid shouldn't be reading a book with lots of sex, violence or profanity until he or she is a little older, you're not a good parent; you're a would-be book-banner." Certainly, this is no 1984 (which is on the banned books list, ironically), but there is still value in cherishing and celebrating the freedom to read. What about you--will you be celebrating Banned Books Week? Do you think censorship in schools is sometimes appropriate?

Holly Munson works in Public Programs at the National Constitution Center.

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