Brunswick library fights censorship during Banned Books Week

One of several Banned Books Week exhibitions at Brunswick’s Curtis Memorial Library features frequently banned books, including Harry Potter, Stamped and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Photo courtesy of Wynter Giddings

As schools and libraries across the country face increasing pressure to ban books dealing with issues such as race, gender and sexuality, the Curtis Memorial Library invites members of the community to take a stand against censorship.

Twenty-four volunteer readers, including authors, college professors and local students, will share excerpts from controversial books on Wednesday afternoon as part of Brunswick Library’s Banned Books Week programming.

“(Censorship) just provides people with an unnecessary shield by not teaching them anything they may not have experienced,” said Jonas McGrath, a junior at Brunswick High School, who will attend the reading at 3 p.m. Wednesday. “I think it’s very important that we get a different perspective than our own.”

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Established in 1982, Banned Books Week is a national campaign sponsored by a coalition of organizations dedicated to the advancement of reading and free speech, including the American Library Association, Amnesty International and the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. The event’s website lists dozens of talks, readings, plays and more taking place online and in person across the country this week.

The threat of censorship has increased in recent years as conservative groups like Moms for Liberty and No Left Turn in Education have spearheaded grassroots efforts to get books off library shelves, according to Office for Intellectual director Deborah Caldwell-Stone remove liberty at the American Library Association.

“We are seeing efforts to remove books that reflect the voices and experiences of traditionally marginalized groups in our society,” said Caldwell-Stone, who called attempts to limit reading choices “profoundly anti-democratic.” “These groups have had great success in forcing their agenda on school districts.”

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According to the American Library Association, which tracks attempts to remove books from school, university, and public libraries, between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, there were 681 attempted bans or restrictions targeting 1,651 unique titles. That’s on track to surpass last year’s 729 attempts at bans, the most since the federation began compiling its list in 2000.

Books written by black or LGBTQ authors face the greatest challenges, according to the association. The most challenged book of 2021 was Gender Queer, a memoir by cartoonist Maia Kobabe.

As in years past, Curtis has set up several exhibitions of titles opponents have fought to keep them out of schools and public libraries. Curtis is also giving away free copies of five commonly banned titles, including Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five,” which has been criticized for its sexual content, violence and language; and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, which was challenged for its portrayal of child abuse.

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In response to mounting censorship pressures, which Curtis librarian and Maine Library Association president Wynter Giddings said has already spread to three Maine school districts this school year, library staff added Wednesday’s edition of Banned Books Week to the 2022 edition added.

Giddings, who will introduce the event with a passage from George Orwell’s 1984, said fighting censorship is not about taking liberal positions, it is about supporting freedom of thought.

“We fully understand that certain issues are controversial,” she said. “We don’t really advocate for these issues. What we advocate is freedom for a person to access information, read about it and form their own opinion.”

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