This year’s Banned Books Week took place from Sept. 26 to Oct. 2 under the theme “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.” Banned Books Week aims to educate people on both current and past censorship of literature, and it celebrates freedom from literary restrictions. Banned Books Week was founded in 1982 by influential librarian, Judith Krug, as a way to combat the rampant censorship at the time and to promote freedom. Now, Banned Books Week is observed by many libraries and college campuses nationwide.
Many books that are now considered classics were banned because of sexual content or because they were deemed impractical or unorthodox. Often, restrictions disproportionately impacted LBGTQ+ authors and authors of color. Banned Books Week examines reasons why books have been banned and increases dialogue around topics that are challenging and infrequently discussed.
According to Maureen Dermott, associate director of library access services at Dickinson, the Waidner-Spahr library used to host “small book displays” during Banned Books Week. However, Dermott explained that the library has since expanded its celebration of Banned Books Week to include lists of the books that have been challenged and the reasons for why they were challenged. She also stated that the library staff decided to cancel their usual book display this year to avoid any congregations of people and transmission of the virus. However, the library website includes a list of titles that have been banned in the past.
Dermott and other library staff hope that such resources will inspire students to think about censorship. According to her, the goal of Dickinson’s outreach during Banned Books Week is “[to share] information, making people aware that being able to read these books freely is a benefit to all of us, [and] it unites us.” She added, “Dickinson is a strong representation of freedom of speech and [information].”
Dermott pointed out, “there’s still a lot of censorship in writing,” a recent example of censorship is in York County, Pennsylvania, where works related to antiracism and diversity were banned, but the ban has since been reversed. Regarding censorship, Dermott said “It divides people because one group is trying to suppress the other person’s voice.” Despite current and past censorship, Dermott hopes that people can find commonality in reading, and she urges Dickinsonians to keep reading and exposing themselves to various ideas, even ones that may be unorthodox.