Off the Shelf: Banned Books Week

Off the Shelf: Banned Books Week

Brittany R. Jacobs, Manager of Outreach & Program Services


Librarians are taking out their fall cardigans as the days are cooling, pumpkin spice is the latte of choice, leaves are starting to turn and it’s National Library Card Sign-Up Month – it must be September! While this time of year signifies the beginning of our transition into a new season, it’s also the time of year for libraries to reflect on our patrons and seek out new ones with the Library Card Sign-Up initiative, champion free access to information with Banned Books Week and encourage civic engagement with National Voter Registration Day.

Although those three initiatives may seem quite unrelated to each other, they all point back to the core tenant of public libraries – to provide access to information. We’ve blasted into an era of flexible knowledge, where information is created and shared at breakneck speeds. It wasn’t so long ago that knowledge, or information, was considered “static” and slow to change. This is why resources like World Book and encyclopedia sets were such hot commodities. The publishers back then had ample time between when their books hit the shelves and when they needed to publish their next edition.

Though much information is static, 2+2 still equals 4, there is an incredible amount of information that is in constant change as we uncover previously hidden information and progress technologically on almost a day-by-day basis. News travels so much faster digitally than it does in print, giving information a much more fluid state.

The beauty in your library is that it provides access to the ‘static’ information (we even have a copy of the latest edition of World Book, believe it or not) as well the rapidly changing information. Providing internet connections quickly became one of the pivotal services offered by public libraries as we try to bridge the ‘digital divide’ and keep more people connected with the World Wide Web. Our building’s Wi-Fi, computers, Chromebooks and Hotspots all keep people connected as well as our rotating shelves of new books, magazines, DVDs, CDs, video games and technology.

Your team of library staff is constantly on the lookout for the latest information and technology in an effort to help keep our library and, in turn, Greater Burlington stay up to date and connected to the wider world. We pride ourselves on providing a relevant, robust and diverse collection to our community. It’s said that every truly good library collection will have something in it to offend everyone, which brings me to our second initiative of the month – Banned Books Week.

Recently I had a patron come in and ask me when we started banning books, as they had noticed our Banned Book Display and misunderstood it for books we were banning. It was a great opportunity to explain what it means when a book is banned or challenged and why Banned Books Week, and information access is important.

Banned Books Week (September 18-24) is an initiative spearheaded by the Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) within the American Library Association (ALA), and is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. The slogan for this campaign, Books Unite Us, Censorship Divides Us speaks to the idea that knowledge shared is what helps to keep our societies functioning by creating empathy, compassion and understanding for one another. Banning books, on the other hand, does a disservice to us all by removing someone’s story from the social narrative, implying that their story doesn’t matter or shouldn’t exist.

In the year 2021, the OIF tracked a record-breaking 729 challenges to library, school and university materials. For comparison, in the year 2020 only 156 challenges were tracked. Successful ‘challenges’ then lead to books being banned, and while most grievances remain in the ‘challenged’ category, there were a whopping 1,597 books affected by the challenges, or censorship attempts, in 2021.

Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, a professor emerita at Ohio State University, has coined the phrase, “books as mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors” to explain how, children specifically, see themselves and learn about the lived experiences of other through literature. Books that serve as windows give readers a glimpse into a life that exists beyond what they currently know, whereas books as mirrors allow readers to see themselves, or a component of their lives, reflected back at them. Sliding glass doors refer to books that invite readers to use their imaginations to ‘step into the stories’ and become part of the world created by the author.

Having access to books that reflect our own lived experiences as well as invite us into and educate us about those that might differ from us, creates the foundation for a healthy and thriving community. Another component of a healthy and thriving community is civic engagement, which brings us to our last initiative this month at the library – National Voter Registration Day.

On Tuesday, September 20th from 5-7 PM we’re throwing a party to try and get as many new voters registered in Des Moines County as possible. As an official location for the National Voter Registration Day campaign, the Burlington Public Library is stepping up our civic engagement by offering a non-partisan event to educate and inform voters on new policy, register new voters and offer activities for young ones to learn about the voting process and civic engagement in a fun and hands-on way.

Grab your sweaters, hoodies, pumpkin spice lattes and library cards, and head on down to the library! We’re so thankful for our current patrons, are excited to welcome in new ones and thrilled to continue championing access to information for everyone. Happy National Library Card Sign-Up Month, Banned Books Week & National Voter Registration Day!