Santa Monica Public Libraries (SMPL) are joining book-lovers across the nation this week in celebrating Banned Books Week. Beginning last Sunday Sept. 18 and running through this Sunday, Sept. 4, the week-long event is intended to highlight works of literature that have been censored or banned from schools or libraries throughout history and in recent times.
“All across the country there are challenges to specific books in libraries, in school libraries and even in schools in which people are trying to take them off the shelf or make them inaccessible to other folks,” said Erica Cuyugan, Santa Monica Library director of library services. “This week is really about celebrating our freedom to read.”
For the first time in 16 years, City Council issued a proclamation to officially declare Sept. 18-24, 2022 as Banned Books Week in Santa Monica. Judith Meister, chair of the library board, accepted the proclamation at the Sept. 13 council meeting.
“This is particularly important now because readers, especially students, are losing access to critical information and librarians and teachers are under attack for doing their jobs,” she said. “The ALA (American Library Association) office of intellectual freedom tracked about 739 challenges in 2021 which resulted in about 1,600 books being removed or challenged.”
PEN America, a freedom of expression advocacy group, recently released a report (https://pen.org/report/banned-usa-growing-movement-to-censor-books-in-schools/) revealing that there has been a surge of political and advocacy groups targeting books featuring “LGBTQ+ characters or characters of color and/or cover racism in American history, LGBTQ+ identities or sex education.” Cuyugan said trends like this made the proclamation particularly relevant this year.
“It was important to make sure we took the time to do it this year,” she said. “There are a lot of other library systems and even school systems that are not as open as we are and we are seeing an increase across the country of book challenges and taking books off the shelf, so this year it was especially important to re-emphasize that books unite us and we should celebrate our freedom to read.”
As part of this celebration, Santa Monica libraries have put up displays to encourage visitors to engage with banned books. The Main Library location has a stand where readers can have a “blind date with a book.” Books on the stand are wrapped in paper with only the reasons for their banning written across the front. Cuyugan said they also held a screening of the movie “Perks of being a Wallflower,” based on the novel of the same name which has been banned before, at the Pico branch.
“Books are really important. They tell stories and share experiences which build connections and understanding and censorship is just the opposite – it’s divisive and it creates barriers,” Meister said. “So we are fortunate in Santa Monica to have a rich collection of materials and I welcome all of our residents to visit a library during banned books week.”
The Main Library is open from 10 am to 5 pm Monday, Tuesday and the first Saturday of every month and 12 pm to 7 pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays. More information and operating hours for other branches can be found at the SMPL website https://smpl.org/Locations_and_Hours.aspx.