Since 1982, the American Library Association and libraries throughout our nation have observed Banned Books Week, Sept. 27 - Oct. 3, in celebration of the freedom to read. It's a time when we pause to give thanks for our fundamental freedom to access information and exchange ideas; to read what we want when we want; and to recognize the important role that libraries and librarians continue to play in protecting that unfettered access.
The freedom to access and exchange information has long been the bedrock of American life, but in today's increasingly knowledge-based economy that freedom is perhaps more important than ever. Information is now both our chief product and our chief commodity. As a result, creativity and competition can only thrive in this economy when we have an environment wherein information is readily accessible, without restriction.
Of course, library professionals have been reminding Americans to protect their right to free access to books and information for decades. Even now, as libraries are transforming from places that have things for people to places that do things for people, our core values of intellectual freedom and freedom to read remain essential to our identity. In fact, these core values not only bind libraries of all types together, they are the backbone of trust that exists between libraries and our patrons. If we are to remain places of individual opportunity and community progress, we must embrace diversity of ideas and protect the freedom to read, inquire and learn.
One of the beautiful gifts that books give us is insight into people and ideas that are different than our own. Our world is becoming increasingly complex and multi-cultural, which is why I find it noteworthy that so many of the most frequently challenged books of 2014 were either written by people of color or explored cultural themes. The ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) records and compiles attempts to remove books from the shelves of libraries from newspapers and reports. Analysis of OIF records from 2001-2013 reveals attempts to remove books by authors of color or about people of color are disproportionately challenged and banned.
Early in my library career I was caught up in an effort to remove the book The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier from the shelves of the public library where I worked. I turned to the OIF, and the tools they provided helped me sway my then library director to do the right thing. At the same time, I discovered that the principles of my profession could be used to educate and inform the local citizenry. Ultimately, The Chocolate War remained on our shelves. I felt lucky that I didn't get fired, but even luckier to have had the backing of a profession dedicated to safeguarding the right to read.
During Banned Books Week, thousands of libraries and bookstores will participate in special events focused on informing Americans of the dangers of censorship and celebrating the right to choose reading materials without restrictions. I invite you to get involved by joining ALA's virtual Banned Books Week Read-Out this September, or by posting videos to our Banned Books Week YouTube Channel. More information about Banned Books Week, including a list of frequently challenged books, tips on how to get involved, event ideas and other suggestions for those interested in highlighting the issue can be found at www.ala.org/bbooks.
As Banned Books Week approaches, I encourage everyone to get informed, stand up and speak out against censorship. It's your right.
Sari Feldman is the president of the American Library Association (ALA). The ALA is the oldest and largest library association in the world, providing association information, news, events, and advocacy resources for members, librarians, and library users.