Crystal Faris has 35 years of perspective as a children’s librarian. Today, as the Kansas City Public Library’s deputy director for youth and family engagement, she says she marvels at the range of literary choices for youngsters and teens – the mix of perspectives, the growing diversity of style and subject matter.
“Publishing is trying to bring voices to light that have not been heard in the past,” she says.
More apprehensively, Faris notes, “There is an element that doesn’t want those voices heard.”
Our country’s high-boil cultural and political warring has swept into libraries, where books and other materials with sensitive subject matter are coming under increasing fire. In the past, bans and other challenges cited sexual explicitness, violence, offensive language and ideology, among other content. Now, it’s most often racial and sexual (particularly LGBTQ) identity. Children’s literature is a principal target as parents and lawmakers seek more oversight of items accessible to students in school libraries.
The surge lends particular relevance to this year’s observance of Banned Books Week. Running September 18-24, it spotlights current and historical attempts to censor holdings in libraries and schools. But efforts to raise awareness of challenges to titles and collections in libraries and schools go on beyond just that week.
The Kansas City Public Library is using its internationally popular Community Bookshelf to make its own unique statement.
The installation on the south wall of the downtown Central Library’s parking garage depicts a nearly 26-foot-high shelf of books, featuring 42 titles ranging from To Kill a Mockingbird and Fahrenheit 451 to The Lord of the Rings and Charlotte’s Web. Fourteen – a full third of them – have been banned or challenged at some point.
Two giant banners on the front of the structure in part illustrate the impact of banishing those classics. View a list of the titles on the Community Bookshelf and read notes on which ones were challenged, and for what reasons.
The Library also addresses the book banning issue through its signature events programming. A panel of veteran librarians from Kansas City-area library systems assesses today’s charged environment and walks through a selection of targeted titles at 6 p.m. on Thursday, September 22, at the Plaza Branch. Video from the presentation is available on our YouTube channel.
A panel of veteran librarians from local library systems examines the new, politically charged wave of book banning and walks through a range of books that have been targeted for removal or restriction in public libraries and schools.
Those awareness efforts follow the enactment of Missouri’s SB 775 in August. Originally drawn up to expand protections for survivors of sexual assault and abuse, the bill took on a controversial amendment that subjects educators to jail time and fines for providing books deemed to include sexually explicit images to students.
KCPL joined in criticism of that portion of the measure, saying in a statement that “the subjective restriction of reading material is counter to the diversity necessary to serve the needs of all readers.
“Equitable access,” it continued, “is a hallmark of intellectual freedom and should be valued, not compromised.”
The American Library Association counted 1,597 challenges or removals of books in 2021, more than the previous four years combined. In a study by PEN America, the New York-based nonprofit devoted to promoting and defending free expression, both Kansas (No. 5) and Missouri (No. 9) were among the top 10 states for book banning by school districts over the nine-month period from July 2021 through March 2022.
In the crosshairs are such titles as Susan Kuklin’s Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out; Maia Kobabe’s autobiographical graphic novel Gender Queer; and Ibtihaj Muhammad’s The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family, which offers lessons on identity, self-acceptance, and respect arising from a sixth-grader’s decision to wear a hijab. All are among the books lauded by KCPL’s Faris for diversity of content (and all, per the links, are in the Library’s collection).
“I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs of certain books being challenged, but this is much more widespread,” Faris says of the onslaught of challenges. “It’s school boards and legislators making it law, not just individuals being frustrated about materials they wish were not in the library. It’s about not letting children have access to information.
“I’ve always found it fascinating,” she says, “that people are so much more afraid of a book in a child’s hands than they are of a computer or a television screen.”
Banned Books Week was established in September of 1982 to highlight current and historical attempts to censor books in libraries and schools. The following list in our catalog brings together some of the most challenged titles since 2000, and links to several other resources.
Explore a collection of current news articles, historical resources, and other information about book bans and challenges.
See the List