A banned book is a book that has been removed from a library, school or school system due to its contents. According to Laura Davidson, Dean of the Carlyle Campbell Library, the most common reason behind banning books is “to protect younger readers from something the complainant finds offensive.” She says common topics that insight such action among parents and others “include sexuality, racist language and magic.”
Dean Davidson told The Herald that she does not know of any books banned from the Carlyle Campbell Library. She also said that the library celebrates Banned Books Week every fall. This is an event led by the American Library Association (ALA) to raise awareness of censorship and to “celebrate the freedom to read.”
In the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS), as with every library or school system, there are policies in place to guide the processes of both banning and reinstating books into libraries. However, Dr. Jennifer Olson, Director of Undergraduate Programs in Education, pointed out that “policies and procedures are being circumvented [by], for example, showing up to a school board meeting and requesting that a book be removed.”
Kali Ranke, ‘22, is an education student currently student-teaching at Cary High School; she told The Herald that at one such board meeting, she heard “parents and librarians agreeing and disagreeing” on banning books. Dr. Olson provided another example of a policy breach as “criminal complaints against WCPSS for ‘distributing obscene and pornographic material’” have been filed as an “intentionally inflammatory way to get attention.”
Dr. Kelly Roberts, Professor of English and Program Coordinator for 6-9 and 9-12 English Licensure, said that The Bluest Eye, The Wizard of Earthsea, Thirteen Reasons Why, Wintergirls, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, The Color Purple, Catcher in the Rye and Speak are some of the books that have been challenged by parents in Wake County. She said, “These books were challenged instead of outright banned… and I think WCPSS does an excellent job of respecting kids and protecting free speech.”
Regarding the College, Dr. Roberts told The Herald that “much to Meredith's credit, no one asked to see a booklist when I proposed a new course on banned books a few years ago.”
Dean Davidson also told The Herald that banning books “takes staff time and attention away from providing services within the community” and “often becomes an act of discrimination—regardless of the motivation of the individual or group.” Dr. Olson also pointed out that “fighting for all students' rights for access to materials can be exhausting” for teachers.
Hannah Porter, ‘22, a student-teacher in a first-grade class at North Ridge Elementary School, told The Herald that “banning books limits the learning that students can participate in.”
“It is impactful when students can see themselves in the books that they are reading,” Porter said. “If books are banned, especially within the context of race, we are doing a disservice to those students who represent different cultures and ethnicities.”
Ranke and Porter both told The Herald that they have not had direct experience with banning books. However, Ranke said that she has “heard of a multitude of books being banned in Wake County, most of those books regarding LGBTQ+ and racial topics,” and of “children's books regarding queer identity and being transgender being taken off shelves.”
According to the ALA, the top 10 banned books of 2020 include George by Alex Gino, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds and All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. These examples contain themes of LGBTQ+ identity and race. On their website, the ALA says that 273 books were challenged in 2020.
Dean Davidson also acknowledged further disadvantages to banning books. “Material that might be offensive to one group might be an important source of support for another,” she said. She added that “books are rarely added carelessly” to libraries. “Selections are made using reviews, working with known publishers and considering whether the book meets a community need,” Dean Davidson explained.
Dr. Roberts summed up why she thinks books are often banned: “For me, the simple answer comes down to fear.” Dr. Olson said that even though it is relatively rare for books to be banned, “it is virtually impossible for education students to avoid experiences with challenged books.”
“By removing access to books because one student may be uncomfortable you are violating the rights of the other students to have access to that material,” Dr. Olson said. “Fundamentally, it is a First Amendment right.”
By Cady Stanley, Copy Editor