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Censorship in VA Highlighted During Banned Books Week


Monday, September 19, 2022   

Controversial books are nothing new, but the incidence of book challenges and bans has increased substantially in recent years.

This week marks the American Library Association's annual Banned Books Week and this year's theme is "Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us."

The ALA has conducted polling on the issue which illustrates that 71% of Americans oppose efforts to remove books from public libraries, and 67% oppose efforts to remove books from school libraries.

The Executive Director of the Virginia Library Association, Lisa Varga, said efforts on social media are using aggressive language and taking snapshots of books out of context to bring new people into the censorship effort.

"That is getting people - who ordinarily would object, I think, to censorship and to the banning of books," said Varga, "getting them to sit here and question, 'Well wait, if my friends are telling me these books are obscene and pornographic I should believe them.' However, those books are not obscene or pornographic."

Varga recommended people attend library board, or school board meetings, or send emails to board members to make their voices heard on censorship.

Virginia has seen its share of book challenges, along with a recently dismissed court case attempting to forbid the retail sale of two books.

The ALA reports over 70% of book challenges this year targeted multiple titles, whereas in the past most challenges were over a single title.

With the rise in challenges appearing in many parts of the country, the question of this being a coordinated effort has been raised, and Varga said she is seeing a pattern at work.

"We have seen the same book titles pop up all over Virginia and all over the country," said Varga. "We've seen the same arguments being used for each of them. We've seen communities invite in people to speak, to rally their bases that have been successful in other parts of the country in getting books removed from shelves. I think this is very organized."

Public office holders dealing with book challenges often end up listening to the people speaking out at public meetings, but the Director of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, said when library supporters make their voices heard things can go differently.

"When there are others in the room speaking out against censorship, speaking out in favor of having a wide variety of books available for young people to read, for the community to read," said Caldwell-Stone, "then we often see efforts to remove books fail."

More information on the ALA's initiative to fight censorship is online at uniteagainstbookbans.org.

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