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Background on Banned Books Week

Rutgers University Libraries this year are joining public and academic libraries across the country in celebrating the freedom to read in "Banned Books Week", September 28 to October 4. Banned Books Week is observed during the last week of September each year. Since 1982, the annual event reminds Americans not to take this precious democratic freedom for granted. Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one's opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them.

"Intellectual freedom can exist only where two essential conditions are met: first, that all individuals have the right to hold any belief on any subject and to convey their ideas in any form they deem appropriate; and second, that society makes an equal commitment to the right of unrestricted access to information and ideas regardless of the communication medium used, the content of the work, and the viewpoints of both the author and receiver of information. Freedom to express oneself through a chosen mode of communication, including the Internet, becomes virtually meaningless if access to that information is not protected. Intellectual freedom implies a circle, and that circle is broken if either freedom of expression or access to ideas is stifled." (Intellectual Freedom Manual, American Library Association, 7th edition)

Books are usually challenged with the best intentions--to protect others, frequently children, from difficult ideas and information. Throughout history, more and different kinds of people and groups of all persuasions, for all sorts of reasons, have attempted--and continue to attempt--to suppress anything that conflicts with or anyone who disagrees with their own beliefs. A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials.

Although they were the targets of attempted bannings, most of the books featured during Banned Books Week were not banned, thanks to the efforts of librarians to maintain them in their collections. Banned Books Week provides opportunities to reflect on the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, while drawing attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.

The Libraries are hosting a series of events designed to expand understanding and appreciation of the importance of the critical human right to free access to information and ideas. Our First Amendment rights along with rights of privacy are central to our ability to function as educated, informed citizens.

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Posted September 22, 2008