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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Madison Public Library celebrates banned books

‘Banned Book Week’ begins Oct. 1
Abigail Leavins
Madison Public Library

The Madison Public Library celebrates “Banned Book Week” during the first week of October, the library’s Digital Services and Marketing Manager Tana Elias said. During this week, the library highlights books that have been banned or challenged by putting them on prominent display.

“[Banned Book Week] focuses on the freedom of information and reading about people’s experiences from all different walks of life,” Elias said. “I’m not a person of color, for example, but I want the opportunity to read about their experiences.”

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Books are typically banned when someone voices their concerns to a member of the library staff, Elias said. While different libraries have different policies on complaints, the issue usually goes in front of the library board. The original challenger is invited to express their views and make a case against the book’s content or message. The board will then vote on whether to take the book off the shelves or not.


Legally enforced book-banning, in the case of state-wide bans, comes into play when a person is unsatisfied with the outcome of such decisions. The local political climate may influence how often these complaints are escalated to a governmental level, Elias said.

Similarly, schools have their own process to decide whether or not to ban certain books. School board members can determine their own curricula and which books are taught in classes. They may ban or challenge books on the school level, but they must meet specific legal criteria based on the state they are in, Elias said.

Book banning has been around for centuries, with the earliest documented “book ban” occurring in 1637, according to National Geographic. Bans surrounding religion, slavery abolition and civil rights movements were very common in the 18th and 19th centuries. Book bans were especially common during the Jim Crow era.

Most books are usually banned or challenged on a local basis, according to the First Amendment Museum. As of 2020, the top three reasons for book bans were sexual content, offensive language and unsuitability for a particular age group.

Book bans are becoming prominent once again, according to the American Library Association. Changing societal norms, the input of technology and social media and a tense political climate throughout the country have influenced these restrictions.

“The unparalleled number of reported book challenges in 2022 nearly doubles the 729 book challenges reported in 2021,” an ALA article said.

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Former UW professor Louise Robbins commended the MPL for their efforts. Robbins is an expert on the history of libraries and their relationship to movements supporting civil rights and intellectual freedom. She wrote an award-winning book on the topic and served as the President of the Association for Library and Information Science Education.

“[Madison Public Library] has a really great approach,” Robbins said. “They keep their users involved in lots of ways. They communicate with their users and ask what they want done. They’re constantly connected to their community.”

While Madison Public Library hasn’t had a lot of issues with book challenges, Elias said that she is aware of what is happening across the country and that the library is prepared to deal with backlash.

“Intellectual freedom is extremely important to libraries,” Elias said. “In a true democracy we have the freedom and responsibility to think for ourselves. We should be able to see and read things we don’t agree with and learn from that.”

Wisconsin is not the only state experiencing book bans in schools and libraries. A New York Times article said bans on books covering LGBTQ+ topics have become especially prevalent under the leadership of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. The article explained that people in favor of book bans claim to want to guard children from inappropriate materials. These restrictions go beyond obscenity, however. 

Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law restricts instruction on gender and sexuality, which has led some school districts to ban books related to LGBTQ+ topics and experiences, according to the New York Times.

“Lawn Boy” by Johnathan Evison was the seventh most challenged book in the country in 2022 due to its portrayal of LGBTQ+ personas and sexual content, according to the American Library Association. The story follows a boy who is trying to find his economic and social place in the world post-high school while navigating his sexuality.

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“The book is being targeted by a national group who believes that any mention of sexual activity is inappropriate,” Elias said. “With a high rate of suicide, anxiety and feelings of isolation in LGBTQ kids and teens, representation like this is extremely important. The Madison Public Library is trying to keep nationally challenged books like ‘Lawn Boy’ accessible to its visitors to maintain their collection of a wide variety of topics for a wide variety of audiences.”

The future of book censorship is unclear, but Robbins predicts the number of book challenges will continue to increase before decreasing.

“Unfortunately, changing societal norms are not what these people are trying to accept or embrace,” Robbins said. “They’re trying to go against these norms — because that’s what scares them.”

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