It seems a bit ridiculous that we’re discussing challenged and banned books in 2015 as a matter of current events and not history. But challenges to library books, particularly those aimed at kids and teens, continue today. But how often do these challenges actually result in bans, and which books are the most often challenged for teenagers?
The first thing it’s important to know is that banned books and challenged books are not one and the same. "Banned and challenged are two very different things,” says Julie Jurgens, librarian-at-large in Illinois. A challenge means someone has objected to the material in the book, she explains, and requested its removal from a library. If a library ends up removing the book, then it’s considered banned.
Libraries should have a procedure in place for dealing with challenges to books in their collections, Jurgens says. "Most procedures involve asking if the person has actually read or viewed the material themselves — often times a challenge is made just on a material's reputation or rumour,” she says.
Often a library will share with the challenger — usually a parent, Jurgens says — the criteria they use to select books in the first place, usually resulting in the dropping of the challenge.
The good news is that most books are not ultimately banned, but some still are. “The American Library Association's list of ‘banned' books is actually a misnomer, when most of the books have only been challenged,” Jurgens says. "And of course, reporting challenges and bans is completely voluntary, so who knows how accurate any of the numbers really are?"
Why does all this matter? There is an idea that books are both windows and mirrors for kids and teens: children need to read books that both reflect their own lives and experiences and give them a window into the lives of other people, Jurgens says.
"If you remove a book, both kinds of readers will lose a valuable opportunity to either be comforted by a shared experience or enriched by experiencing something beyond their own reality,” she says. Parents have the right to make choices about what their children do and do not experience or learn about.
"However, they cannot make those choices for anyone else's children, and that is when challenges and attempted bans become problematic,” she says.