Every year the American Library Association’s Office For Intellectual Freedom presides over Banned Books Week, an opportunity to alarm the citizenry, solicit donations and sell tote bags that say “Make Orwell Fiction Again.” This is one of the most intellectually dishonest dates on the social causes calendar (and while the librarians are at the fore of it, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Association of American Publishers, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and a host of other organizations are also involved).
A book is banned when it is officially or legally prohibited. It is virtually impossible to get a book banned in the U.S., and it has been since the U.S. Supreme Court cleared Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer of obscenity charges in 1964. Canada is no different. That makes it hard to sustain Banned Books Week. So what the librarians do is gather all the media reports and complaints from school libraries and public libraries about the content of various books into a list of “most challenged books.” A challenge is merely some person saying that a book (or video, etc.) shouldn’t be on the shelf for just anyone to borrow.
The vast majority of challenges, the librarians admit, are unsuccessful. Nevertheless, they brazenly substitute challenged books for banned books on their lists. From the ALA website:
“Reports of challenges culled from media across the country are compiled in the Journal of Intellectual Freedom and Privacy… those reports are then compiled in the resource guide, Banned Books: Defending Our Freedom to Read.”
This sleight-of-hand, equating challenged books with banned books, has been a great success. Every fall, the librarians reach an estimated 2.8 billion people with their message that the book-banners are coming. The ALA’s banned books page is one of the two most popular pages on its website. If you google “banned books” you’ll see everyone from CNN to the Washington Post to Harvard Law School News shaking their heads about a non-existing epidemic of book banning.
There were 347 reported challenges of school, university, and public library materials in 2018. That means .000001% of Americans complained. Turn it over and 327 million people were just fine with the contents of American libraries, which is probably the highest degree of consensus on any subject in American public life.
I can’t find any ALA materials mentioning how many, if any, of the challenges were successful. Again, they admit the vast majority are thwarted. As for the eleven most challenged books for 2018, all are children’s or young adult materials, and all deal with sexuality, teen suicide, or racial stereotypes that parents, teachers, or school administrators felt were not suitable for all children or young adults.
One wonders why parents or teachers would bother monitoring library content given the open sewers on the internet but someone arguing that certain themes are not suitable for the young is not out to ban a book (and the damn thing is available everywhere on Amazon regardless). Shame on the ALA for fundraising on a lie.