Indiana Libraries Highlight Censorship During Banned Books Week

(Source: License:

Controversial books aren’t new, but the incidence of book challenges and bans has increased dramatically in recent years.

This week marks the American Library Association’s annual Banned Books Week, and this year’s theme is “Books Unite Us.” Censorship divides us. The association conducted a poll on the issue which showed that 71% of Americans oppose efforts to remove books from public libraries and 67% oppose efforts to remove books from school libraries.

Deb Lambert, director of collections management at the Indianapolis Public Library, said their policy is to offer materials that are inclusive, designed to represent all different types of people in the community. Lambert recently pointed out that they have seen some children’s materials being challenged differently than in the past.

“They specifically have issues with hardbacks and picture books, and they call them sexual and pornographic, even though what they show in those books is the inclusiveness of families, different types of families,” explained Lambert. “For families that have two moms or two dads, it becomes a norm for them to see that families are made up of all different shapes.”

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, which has tracked book censorship for decades, said organized political groups that advocate censorship are involved in efforts to sway councils. school and library boards, sending motivated voices to speak to elected officials. Office holders facing book-related challenges often end up listening to people speak out in public meetings, but when censorship opponents raise their voices, things can turn out differently.

“When there are other people in the room who are speaking out against censorship, speaking out for a wide variety of books available for young people to read, for the community to read, then we often see the efforts to remove the books fail,” Caldwell-Stone observed.

She pointed out that writing an email to the library board or sending a letter with another supporter to read at a meeting can also give busy people a way to make their voices heard.

Over the course of her career, Caldwell-Stone has seen an expansion of the types of books challenged, noting that books containing profanity or coming-of-age stories with accounts of early sexual experiences have often been challenged. In recent years, the challenges have taken on additional political dimensions.

“When you look at the books that are challenged, you see books that have no sexual content but advance different narratives around our history,” Caldwell-Stone pointed out. “With racism or the lives and experiences of LGBTQIA people.”

The association estimates that between 82% and 97% of book disputes go unreported.

Colin L. Johnson