“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” - Harper Lee
According to the American Library Association (ALA), a challenge constitutes any attempt to remove or restrict access to select materials. Challenges are most often issued to the public libraries in an area. These challenges are almost always based on a concerned parent's emotional objection to content within the book. Banning is the actual removal of these materials from the shelves. It's easiest to think of these two terms as a Step 1 and Step 2 situation, a book needs to be challenged before it can be banned and removed from the collection.
Within the community that has always found joy between the pages of a book, conversations surrounding the challenges against a book are bound to come up. In order to fully understand the topic at hand, it's important that we are able to recognize and appreciate the difference between a formal challenge and a ban. Understanding this difference is key to knowing the appropriate steps one should take to return a book to shelves or to ensure the book is never pulled in the first place. Most challenges end up unsuccessful because of those who take the necessary steps in addition to the efforts of librarians, teachers, parents and students. For more information on banned books, please check out the ALA's Banned Book FAQ.
Rooted within the 1st Amendment, the American Library Association defines intellectual freedom as "the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction" (ALA). As affirmed by the Library Bill of Rights, librarians across the country are expected to uplift the principles of intellectual freedom while also challenging any acts of censorship. Censorship is the active suppression or elimination of ideas and information that have been deemed to be either overly offensive or potentially dangerous for public consumption. The overall goal of the censor is to ensure that no one is ever given the opportunity to read or view the material in question.
As readers and intellectual professionals, it's important we recognize the relationship between our right to intellectual freedom and the very real threat that censorship represents. In conversations surrounding the censorship of materials, whether it be a beloved children's book or the NYT bestselling 50 Shades of Gray, library professionals and booksellers should remember that society is not a monolith. Every individual who reads a book is a their own unique person and their response is going to be entirely their own. Given the infinite possible responses to a singular text, it's impossible to accurately predict how each and every book will affect an individual. This is something that many book challengers and censors alike still need to recognize and accept. For a better understanding of the complex relationship between Intellectual Freedom and Censorship, check out the ALA's Frequently Asked Questions.
Graduate student at Drexel's College of Computing & Informatics and future librarian in the making
Currently (re)reading: Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief and You'll Be the Death of Me by Karen M. McManus