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Book bans and censorship

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For those who like to keep up to date on current events, you’ll be aware of a disturbing trend in the United States right now which is seeing books banned left, right, and centre in school and public libraries. In 2021, ALA (the American Library Association) reported that 1597 titles were challenged, but given that 82-97% of book challenges aren’t recorded, this number may be astronomically higher.

The main topics of the banned items are the history of racism in the US, books with LGBTQIA+ themes, and also books about characters of colour. The challenges to the titles have come from parents, religious groups, and conservative advocacy organisations such as No Left Turn in Education and Moms for Liberty. More frightening however was when armed activists turned up to a Boundary County Library Board meeting in Idaho to demand over 400 titles be removed from the library, and then showed up at the Library Director’s house, also armed. The groups have stated that they are protecting their children from sexual deviancy and ‘pornography’ in the library and they’re not afraid to use force to get their way.

So what’s been the fallout of these challenges and resulting bans? Many authors, journalists, and librarians have spoken out publicly against the bans but their voices have had little impact. The organisations involved have close connections to wealthy, conservative donors and are not only banding together to disrupt library services but are filing law suits and even making federal complaints against ‘racism against white children’. Some public libraries have closed as staff have resigned en masse in protest of the bans. Other libraries are fighting back, participating in Banned Book Week and refusing to remove banned material. Some libraries have even had the support of their local governments, with Wellington in Colorado leading the way. The Wellington Board of Trustees recently passed a resolution that prevents the board from restricting access to materials at their public library.

So what about closer to home? Are book bans still a thing in Australia? The answer is yes – kind of. The Film and Literature Classification Board will screen ‘submittable publications’ and make a decision on whether or not they can be classified. This means that items that are ‘likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult’ may be refused classification, which means they are unable to be distributed in Australia. Current items include those that “promote, incite or instruct in matters of crime or violence”, which include terrorism manuals and ‘how to’ guides. Other books refused classification include books about euthanasia, drug use, and incest.

The debate over whether books should be banned or not has raged since books were first published and as current events demonstrate, it’s not going to go away anytime soon. I’ve experienced it firsthand when I’ve had library members complain about items held in our collection. It’s not my job to censor our materials however. It is a reader’s responsibility to curate their own reading material and no one is forcing them to read any book that they don’t want to (unless of course they’re an English Literature student but that’s a power that is well outside my reach).