‘Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.’
UHD’s W.I. Dykes Library Celebrates Banned Books Week
By Laura Wagner
Since 1982, the last full week of September has been designated Banned Books Week, a time to promote intellectual freedom in libraries and schools by celebrating banned and challenged books.
This year’s theme—“Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.”—supports the belief that all individuals have the right to express and access ideas and beliefs, regardless of whether those ideas and beliefs are popular or mainstream. The 2022 Banned Books Week artwork includes birds flying freely and caged, reminders of the intellectual freedom provided by having access to a spectrum of written works versus the limitations of censorship.
As part of an institution committed to equity, justice, and inclusion, UHD’s W.I. Dykes Library is celebrating Banned Books Week and the freedom to read. Librarygoers will see a series of tabletop posters placed throughout the library that spotlight recent news articles on censorship and book banning from respected news sources, including the Guardian, Texas Tribune, The Washington Post, Houston Public Media, CNN, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), among others. Each poster provides a QR code that leads to the article.
“We’re using the tabletop posters to provide more information around the topic of banned and challenged books to help students understand the debate around those titles and to explore the motivation behind a given censorship effort,” said Sam Weehunt (left), Reference Coordinator Librarian for the W.I. Dykes Library. “This week is a chance to raise awareness for students that the issue of censorship is a very real threat to their education.”
One of the library’s stated values is to support “an open, safe environment for curious minds to engage and discover without fear of judgment, empowering intellectual and academic freedom.” As such, the library holds a number of banned books in its collection. Many of the copies are being displayed on a table to provide immediate access for library visitors.
Weehunt urges campus community members to request any book missing from the library’s titles, noting, “We’re an academic institution charged with teaching students to think critically. Having access to books that represent a variety of viewpoints on controversial topics and discussing those viewpoints and topics in class is one way students learn that critical thinking skill.”
As Banned Books Week celebrates its 40th anniversary, challenges to books and attempts to ban them from schools, libraries, and bookstores are accelerating, according to the nonprofit American Library Association (ALA). The ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) began cataloguing reported censorship attempts two decades ago. The OIF website states the group “tracked 729 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services in 2021, resulting in more than 1,597 individual book challenges or removals”—a record high. (Most challenges include more than one item.) This year’s challenges are on track to beat that record. In Texas alone, the Houston Chronicle uncovered more than 1,700 reviews, challenges, and bans of books during the 2021-22 school year—most instigated by politicians. The ALA considers challenges and bans to be significantly underreported.
Historically, many challenged or banned books were called out for profanity and sexually explicit content. In the past few years, most of the books under fire feature racial and gender themes, which have become lightning rods for political groups. Librarians as well as school and university administrators are often caught in the crossfire. According to Deborah Caldwell-Stone, Director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, “This is a dangerous time for readers and the public servants who provide access to reading materials. Readers, particularly students, are losing access to critical information, and librarians and teachers are under attack for doing their jobs.”
Weehunt feels Banned Books Week is a chance to spotlight the issue of censorship in a way that reframes it: “My hope is that we make it clear to our students and community that free expression and free dissemination of different kinds of ideas strengthen our democracy rather than weakening it.”
Banned Books Week is sponsored by the Banned Books Week Coalition, “an international alliance of diverse organizations joined by a commitment to increase awareness of the annual celebration of the freedom to read.” Visit BannedBooksWeek.org for more information, including events related to Banned Books Week and the top banned books for past years. To support the freedom to read effort, visit the ALA’s Get Involved webpage.
To talk with a librarian at W.I. Dykes Library, stop by the 5th floor of the One Main Building or visit the library’s webpage, where you can chat with a librarian 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.
U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.