In June I attended the American Library Association (ALA) convention. The current climate of banning books was a major topic of conversations. My friend Amanda, recently told me of a chilling incident very much related to the banning of books. Finished shopping in Grand Rapids, Minnesota  she carries cloth bags to hold her groceries. One of those bags proclaims, I Read Banned Books. The bagger, a middled-aged white male, refused to use that bag, instead substituting environmentally damaging plastic ones for the remainder of the items. The offending bag was slipped inside another.

Amanda is not one to back down from a challenge. On subsequent trips to the same grocery, she and the bagger repeatedly have come in contact. Each time he refuses to place any goods in the I Read Banned Books bag. She is simply exercising her Constitutional right under the First Amendment which guarantees individuals the right to express their ideas without governmental interference, read, and listen to the ideas of others.

The American Library Association Data

The drive to curtail what people are allowed to read has grown exponentially over the past three years. The American Library Association (ALA) released data documenting 1,269 demands to censor library books and resources in 2022, the highest number of attempted book bans since the ALA began compiling data about censorship. Those numbers apply only to libraries and are the highest ever recorded. The unparalleled number of reported book challenges in 2022 nearly doubled from the 729 challenges reported in 2021.

A record 2,571 titles were targeted for censorship. This is an increase of 38% from the 1,858 titles targeted for censorship in 2021. Of those titles, the vast majority were written by or about members of the LGBTQIA+ community and people of color. Groups are being singled out and targeted to silence their voices.

Book banning, unfortunately, is nothing new. Governments and individuals have suppressed the distribution of certain books for centuries believing the ideas they presented were offensive. Authoritarian governments ban books because they want to possess a monopoly on knowledge and to control what their citizens think. Individuals and small groups often seek to ban books that challenge their own belief systems. Independent thought and increased knowledge are forbidden. That breeds ignorance.

Know Your Rights

Despite the protection the First Amendment grants her, Amanda isn’t sure pushing the issue with the Granite Falls grocery bagger is worth jeopardizing her safety. His overt hostility toward her grows. He has no qualms about trampling on the rights of others to read freely. Forcing his beliefs censor not only books but someone’s public acknowledgement of reading them. That promotes fear, which is exactly what he intends.

Those who ban books want to keep knowledge not just from the people they claim they are protecting but everyone. Sir Francis Bacon is credited with the quote, “Knowledge itself is power,” from his Meditationes Sacrae published in 1597. The statement is true more than ever. Banning books won’t deter the flow of having and sharing knowledge. But we must stand up to governments, groups, and individuals who wish to quash the freedom of thought and ideas. One way to accomplish this is joining Unite Against Book Bans a national initiative to empower readers everywhere to come together and stand against book censorship. I, along with Amanda and others, understand that a vigorous society without debate collapses and dies under the suppression of vital information.

 

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