Enid library recognizing Banned Books Week throughout September

A "Banned Books Week" display at the Public Library of Enid & Garfield County, Friday Aug. 30, 2019. Banned Books Week officially falls from Sep. 22-28, but the local library is recognizing the annual nationwide event throughout the entire month of September. (Mitchell Willetts/Enid News & Eagle)

ENID, Okla. — Enid's public library is raising awareness of Banned Books Week throughout September, promoting some of the most challenged, removed and restricted books from last year.

Launched in 1982, Banned Books Week is meant to celebrate free thought and speech, spotlight attempts to censor the written word and garner attention for targeted works. Libraries across the country observe the annual event, which runs Sept. 22-28 this year.

Most challenged books of 2018

"Banned Books Week is about celebrating our right to read anything that we want to read, in whatever form we choose to," said Jenny Regier, director of the Public Library of Enid and Garfield County.

The library's latest display, front and center on the first floor, features the 11 most challenged books in 2018. Propped up on top and alongside, their titles are hidden, their covers wrapped in paper bearing bullet points outlining where and how they crossed the line. The reasons why they're best left unread, according to whomever.

They say things like "too graphic," or "promotes 'controversial racial and political issues.'"

Ideas about gender and sexuality are frequently named as points of contention. For six of the 11 books, LGBTQ characters and perspectives were cited as cause for challenge.

Regier, who has been library director for four years, said she has strong feelings on the topic of censorship.

"Keeping people from sharing ideas, keeping words contained, shutting beliefs out of the public's eye, is scary."

In 2018, 347 "challenges" were leveled in the United States against books. Challenging a book is a first step in the process toward censoring it.

"It's a process to get a book taken off the shelf. It's a lengthy process, and it's lengthy for a reason," Regier said, and what that process looks like can vary from place to place. "Here, we have a form."

Forms titled "Request for Reconsideration of Library Materials" are required to be kept on hand. Once filled out and submitted, a committee consisting of the director and senior staff convenes to determine if the complaints are valid.

If they determine they are valid, then the challenge succeeds and the book in question will be gone from that library.

If the committee disagrees with the challenge, the challenger can appeal to the library board, which will hear from both sides and make a determination.

The forms have been submitted to the Enid library before, Regier said, but the last time was shortly before she came on board as director.

"People still challenge books all over the place," but in and around Enid library patrons don't often try and ban things they don't agree with, she said.

Censorship can take many forms though and is not always performed through the approved processes.

"Going through a book and marking out the words that you find offensive, that's vandalism and that's censorship," Regier said.

"We get books stolen all the time, videos stolen all the time, audiobooks stolen all the time, and that's censorship," she said. It's possible that in some instances of theft, the actual goal is to make certain content unavailable, she said, adding it's hard to say for certain what's intentional censorship and what's simple theft, but nothing at a library has a price tag.

Still, the censors are seemingly outnumbered, she said. Each year, Banned Books Week has been a hit.

There are plenty open to reading the content deemed detrimental by others. Some even come in asking where they can find more lists of banned and challenged books, Regier said.

"I don't find this community to be shunning of a whole lot of things," Regier said. "They pretty much embrace people and who they are and what they think, what they stand for, and they're very, very inclusive of the library."

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Willetts is education and city reporter for the Enid News & Eagle.
Have a question about this story? Do you see something we missed? Do you have a story idea for Mitchell? Send an email to mwilletts@enidnews.com.

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