Banned books

Banned books

Harry Potter and the chamber of secrets by JK Rowling. Information about banned and challenged books, the reasons why and the role of libraries in preserving freedom of speech.

For as long as there has been communication between human beings, attempts have been made to inhibit free speech or expression. Almost every day someone tries to restrict what can be said, written, sung or broadcast in name of a higher authority or more restrictive morality.

Books are among the most visible targets of censorship, but they are hardly alone. Free expression is constantly challenged in the arts, in broadcast media and on the internet.

A definition

Banned books have been prohibited from being published or circulated by a government authority, usually on the grounds of religion, politics or public morality. Many books, such as Lolita, Dr. Zhivago and even Harry Potter, have withstood such condemnation and gone on to become beloved classics. 

Libraries and challenged books

"If your library is not 'unsafe', it probably isn't doing its job."
-- John Berry, Iii, Library Journal, October 1999

A book is challenged when an attempt is made to restrict it, usually to have it taken off the shelves of a school or public library. The motivation is usually to protect children from profanity, racism or sexual content.

However, even if well-intentioned, these attempts limit the freedom of others to choose what they read, see, or hear. 

Due to the commitment of parents, students, librarians, teachers, and other concerned citizens, challenges are almost always unsuccessful.


Recommended websites

ALA: Banned Books Week
Official site from the American Library Association. Includes a list of the 100 most frequently challenged books of 1990 - 1999 and 2000 - 2009.

Banned Books Online
A special exhibit of books that have been the subject of censorship or censorship attempts. Presented by The Online Books Page.

Beacon for Freedom of Expression
This bibliographical database on freedom of expression and censorship world wide has been designed and produced by the Norwegian Forum for Freedom of Expression in celebration of the revival of Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the world library of humanism. Includes an online gallery of banned books and newspapers.

Index on Censorship
Index on Censorship was founded in 1972 by Stephen Spender with the goal to protect the basic human right of free expression. For the past 31 years, Index has reported on censorship issues from all over the world and has added to the debates on those issues. In addition to the analysis, reportage and interviews, each contains a country by country list of free speech violations.  

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