“It’s a thing that we have been battling for years in libraries. People are always challenging this or that and saying things should be banned. Libraries throughout history have always said we allow free speech to everybody.”
— Putnam County Library Executive Director Jay Kaplan
Visitors of Putnam County Library this week were greeted with caution tape and a warning that some of the works on display may cause offense to those who choose to read them.
The collection of Putnam County Libraries spent the week of Sept. 18-24 bringing attention to National Banned Book Week, at a time when censorship is growing in the United States.
“We’ve been impressed with how much social media reaction we’ve gotten it has stirred lately,” Putnam County Library Clerk Matt Miller said. “There’s also been people coming in a talking about it.”
Banned Book week is a national event put on through the American Library Association, National Coalition Against Censorship, the Authors Guild and PEN America with the goal of bringing attention and providing the opportunity for patrons to take a look at banned and challenged books that have been deemed controversial.
“There’s been a little bit of confusion on where we stand on the issue, but we are just out here to promote that there are these books to get people to pay attention,” Miller said. “It’s the First Amendment support.”
The list of banned or challenged books has continued to grow in recent years and, in 2022, has already approached last year’s totals, which were the highest in decades, according to the American Library Association.
Throughout the first eight months of the year, the ALA has documented 681 challenges to books including 1,651 titles. In 2021, the ALA collected 729 challenges for 1,579 total works.
The ALA relies on media accounts and reports from libraries, meaning the actual number is likely much higher, according to the association.
The works appearing as banned books include books from all periods of time from classic stories including Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and George Orwell’s “1984″ to modern bestsellers in Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” and JK Rowling’s “Harry Potter ” series.
While this year isn’t the first time the Putnam County Libraries have participated in the national event, library officials have been encouraged by the reaction they have seen this time around.
“It hasn’t been as hot of a topic in years past as it has been of late,” Executive Director Jay Kaplan said. “For my point of view, the reaction has been all positive.”
The library said while the topic of controversial and banned books has become one that has been brought more into the spotlight in recent years and months, officials believe it’s in it’s their responsibility to educate people on the topic and leave individuals to make their own opinions.
“It’s a thing that we have been battling for years in libraries,” Kaplan said. “People are always challenging this or that and saying things should be banned. Libraries throughout history have always said we allow free speech to everybody.”
The Putnam County Library chooses to take part in the week-long celebration not to take a side on banned books, but rather to do what it can to allow free speech under the first amendment and give the community a chance to formulate their own opinions, library staff said.