UM student Katy Barnes reads from popular banned book “Thirteen Reasons Why.” Photo by Ariel Hall

If you ever had to read a book in school, then you’ve probably read a challenged or banned book in your life. 

While banned books are removed from libraries completely, many books are challenged, meaning restricted, especially children’s books that are deemed to be unsuited for that age group. 

This year, the Secular Student Alliance (SSA) collaborated with the staff of Carmichael Library during the week of Sept. 23 for Banned Book Week, which was held at bookstores, libraries and schools all over the country. According to the American Library Association, it is to celebrate reading while also bringing attention to banned and challenged books.  

This week was launched back in the 1980s after the Supreme Court ruled in Island Trees School District v. Pico that school libraries could not ban a book based solely on content. The campaign slowly grew as it spotlighted persecuted writers. The focus of this awareness campaign is to promote academic freedom, even when the ideas expressed are unpopular. 

Throughout the week, the library had a mugshot-inspired photobooth for those who checked out banned books. On Friday, Sept. 28, SSA held a public reading of banned books in the Pat Scales Special Collections room of Carmichael, named after the 1966 alumna, librarian and advocate for academic freedom in children and young adult literature. 

At the reading, each attendee read an excerpt from a banned book and then as a group discussed the reasons why it was banned. Many attendees were outspoken about their thoughts; some thought certain books should be more closely monitored, while others spoke about total academic freedom. 

However, there were some books that were mentioned were banned for unusual reasons. For example, “Where the Wild Things Are” one of the most highly acclaimed children’s books, was banned for witchcraft and supernatural elements. Some other books’ reasons were more obvious. One of the most controversial titles “13 Reasons Why” by Jay Asher, discusses mature topics like suicide, substance abuse and sexual assault.  

An attendee of the reading pointed out that many books were banned for controversial topics like racism and violence, like “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Other books read include “Looking for Alaska” by John Green and “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov. An attendee of the reading stated that this was one of her favorite books, banned for being considered sexually explicit and for the subject of pedophilia. However, she made clear that even though it was known for these things, it had still made an impact on her as a reader. Many participants agreed with her underlying point in her statement; even if it was controversial, banned material still had an important message to convey.  

Parents, patrons and even students, who seek banning or challenging a book have reasons that vary. Books can be censored due to offensive language, general negativity or even political bias.   

Books are still banned and challenged in libraries and schools today. While challenged books are the restriction of the material, banned books are removed completely. However, these books have remained available because of teachers and students who speak out.