The Severity of Book Bans

Book bans rob library patrons of their freedom to read.

Censoring books really is a big deal.

The rise of book bannings in the U.S. has forced librarians and advocates to defend intellectual freedom. Although most Americans oppose book banning, the vocal minority continues to challenge literature. 

This begs the question: Why is book banning so serious when there are many other ways to obtain literary materials? Simply put, libraries have always been an accessible and affordable way to read books. Here’s why you should care about the rise of book bannings, even more so if you’ve used library resources.


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Book Challenges vs. Bans

Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, there’s a definite difference between book challenges and bans. Challenging refers to attempts to remove certain library materials from shelves. Banning is the act of confiscating these materials from library shelves. The good news is that challenged books rarely get to the point of censorship. Even so, book banning is unfortunately not impossible. Librarians and advocates try extremely hard to prevent challenges from transitioning to bans for this reason. 

The Banning Process

Due to the First Amendment, which includes intellectual freedom, it’s extremely difficult to completely ban books in the U.S. However, if someone does choose to challenge a library material, it can and has gone all the way up to the Supreme Court. 

One famous example of this includes the 1982 case of the Island Trees School District v. Pico. This left Supreme Court justices divided on whether local school boards have the right to completely remove library books from schools under the First Amendment. 

However, under standard processing procedures, a challenge is initiated and decided among a group of individuals, usually a school board. These are either overturned or officially banned, although the latter is usually the final decision. 


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Book Banning Is Always Harmful

You might be wondering: If banning is so difficult to finalize, why bother making a fuss about it? Also, if a book is banned at your local library, why not just buy it online or in a bookstore? While these thoughts are understandable, it’s important to remember why libraries are needed in the first place. 

Most library materials are free for anyone to use, including books. Some people don’t have the financial security or means to buy a book. Thus, when books are removed from library shelves, these people can’t read them. In other words, even if it doesn’t directly affect you, book banning inevitably harms someone.



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