INDIANAPOLIS — Bookworms across the United States are celebrating Banned Books Week, which runs Sept. 18-24.
It is an annual, national event celebrating the freedom to read.
Dr. Steffany Comfort Maher, the director of the Indiana University Southeast Writing Project, said books can be banned by various organizations for a variety of reasons.
Each year, the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom shares the "Top 10 List" of banned books, including the reasons the books where banned.
"We might find common reasons for banning books by examining these lists," Maher said. "For example, one reason given for banning several books in recent years has been 'LGBTQIA+ content.' Other reasons include 'profanity' and 'use of a derogatory term.'"
While there is no federal organization responsible for banning books, Professor Raymond Haberski Jr. at IUPUI said the job of banning books is often left to local or state government agencies who hold the power to affect public and school libraries.
"In the past, city governments have also passed ordinances that restrict where certain kinds of stores can open," Haberski said. "For example, Indianapolis still has laws that prohibit sex shops that sell books and movies from opening near schools."
Because banning books is often hyperlocal, a book is not banned completely if it is challenged by a person or organization.
"Books might be 'banned' at one school district, but that doesn't mean they are 'banned' at all districts," Maher said. "They might be 'banned' from one school building or one library or even one classroom."
"One school system can ban 'Huckleberry Finn,' but that doesn't mean my child cannot buy it in a bookstore or order it online," Haberski said. "The problem with 'banning' books in a public school or library is that someone spoke in the name of all the public when they determined to prevent a book from being seen in a public place."
For some, challenging or banning a book is seen as a way to protect children.
According to the American Library Association, a challenge is described as an attempt to remove or restrict materials. A ban is when that challenge is successful.
Additionally, experts say banning books can sometimes ultimately benefit the author.
"From the perspective of some authors, banning their books makes them far more interesting and sometimes profitable," Haberski said. "Among the best examples of that is the graphic novel 'Maus,' which depicts a family’s experience in the Holocaust. It was banned in some school districts in the United States, became a bestseller, and won the Pulitzer Prize."
For other people, however, banning books is seen as a way to silence art and culture.
"Books are often safe spaces for readers to explore the world," Maher said. "As educators, we want students to learn about the world and how it works, as well as how they can bring about change within it. We want students to explore ideas and learn to think for themselves."
Maher said some national organizations, like the National Council of Teachers of English Intellectual Freedom Center, now fight such censorship to better serve educators and students.
"At base, banning books is anti-democratic," Haberski said. "Who gets to speak for the public in regard to art and culture? The whole point of producing something creative is to have it seen and critiqued. Banning books just eliminates the hard-earned assumption that people have the ability to reason and relate to their world without oppression by an illegitimate authority."