From the of banning classic fiction and children’s books to the suppression of scientific data, no type of information is immune from censorship.
In the world of libraries, the attempt to police or control available information in any form is one of the biggest threats to the principles of open and equitable access that underpin the profession. With this in mind, we’ve rounded up some information and resources so you can learn more about the history of banned books, as well as the other forms of censorship that might not be as obvious.
The first Banned Books Week ran in the United States in 1982 and has become an annual celebration of “the freedom to read” (American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom, n.d., para 1). The American Library Association also collates a list of the most challenged or banned books. The list includes books challenged for a variety of reasons: LGBTQIA+ content, sexual references, religious viewpoints, content that addresses racism and police brutality, and profanity (Morales, 2020).
While the USA is arguably the most high-profile book-banning nation, Australia has its own colourful history of censorship that runs into the present. The Book Censorship Board began banning what they believed were morally and politically objectionable titles in 1933, with owning and disseminating banned materials a prosecutable offense (Moss, 2019, para 12). Classic titles like Lady Chatterly’s Lover and The Decameron were both subject to bans, while American Psycho – published for the first time in 1991 – must still be sold in a sealed wrapper to this day (Moss, 2019, para 3, 10; National Archives of Australia, n.d.).
Censorship in academia
Academic research is also often subject to restrictions by governments or institutions who perceive the resulting data as challenge to their authority or historical narrative. A recent survey of Australian environmental scientists uncovered government intervention suppressing the publication of damaging figures on threatened species and climate change (Kilvert, 2020; Morton, 2020).
On a global scale, groundbreaking discoveries about Ancient Egyptian and historical African understandings and applications of mathematical theory continue to be suppressed and decentralised in favour of less accurate European theorems, a lingering symptom of institutional white supremacy in post-apartheid South Africa (Raju, 2017).
Want to know more?
For more on the ins and outs of book banning and academic censorship, check out the following:
- The Banned Books Website is hosting talks, workshops and events online – watch out for the time difference!
- Search for topics like “academic censorship” and “decoloni?ing education” in Primo – the question mark is a search technique called a wild card. It means Primo will search both the “s” and “z” spellings so you don’t miss relevant results.
- This blog post from the National Library of Australia explores other reasons why access to a resource might be restricted or prohibited, including cultural sensitivity and ongoing litigation
- This deep dive on a handful of previously banned or challenged books by the State Library of Victoria
- Browse Primo and borrow a banned book or two to read after the end of session!
American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom. (n.d.). About – Banned books week. https://bannedbooksweek.org/about/
Morales, M. (2020, September 27).ALA releases list of Top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books of the decade. ALANews. http://www.ala.org/news/press-releases/2020/09/ala-releases-list-top-100-most-banned-and-challenged-books-decade
Kilvert, N. (2020, September 9) More than half of government environmental scientists say their work has been suppressed: Report. ABC News. https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2020-09-09/environment-scientists-censored-suppressed-data/12643824
Morton, A. (2020, September 1). Australian scientists say logging, mining and climate advice is being suppressed. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/sep/09/australian-scientists-say-logging-mining-and-climate-advice-is-being-suppressed
Moss, S. (2019, August 23). Book Week spotlight on banned books highlights our freedom to read secret stories. ABC News. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-08-23/dangerous-and-deeply-disgusting-books-once-banned/11421108
National Archives of Australia (n.d.). Banned. http://blog.naa.gov.au/banned/books/#D
Raju, C. K. (2017). Black thoughts matter: Decolonized math, academic censorship and the ‘Pythagorean” proposition