Maag Library celebrates Banned Books Week

A crowd of YSU community members listen as Barzak and Duchon discuss book banning at Maag Library. Photo by Molly Burke / The Jambar

By Molly Burke

William F. Maag Jr. Library celebrated Banned Books Week from Oct. 1 to Oct. 7 to commemorate books banned and challenged across the U.S.

Along with having a banned books scavenger hunt throughout the week, the library hosted a discussion with author and Youngstown State University English professor Christopher Barzak on Oct. 2. His book, “Wonders of the Invisible World,” was challenged by Texas state legislatures and was banned statewide in 2021. 

Colleen Duchon, a reference librarian for health and human services at Maag Library, interviewed Barzak during the discussion. Duchon said the American Library Association pioneered Banned Books Week. 

“It’s a celebration that the American Library Association has been doing for a little over 20 years to bring awareness to books that are challenged and banned in mostly public and more recently school libraries … around the country,” Duchon said. “More often now, it’s not just books. It’s also events and different programming [libraries] have going on as well.”

The library displayed over a dozen banned books in its windows with flames painted around them to symbolize the burning of books. 

Anyone walking into the library could see statements written on the library’s glass doors listing the number of banned books in several states, including Ohio, which has 127.

According to the window statements, book bans and challenges have been increasing since 2020, with nearly 4,000 across the U.S. in 2023, more than triple the amount banned in 2022 and 25 times the amount banned in 2020. Texas currently has more book bans than any other state with 1,150. 

Cassie Nespor, curator of University Archives and The Rose Melnick Medical Museum, said book banning has been used throughout history for many reasons, but today books are mostly targeted for topics of sexuality, gender, race, religion, sex and more. 

“There are many examples over history of entire cultures banning certain books because they deal with [certain] subjects. Of course, there was during the Holocaust, any book written by a Jewish author was burned,” Nespor said. “Now, we see it more with the LGBTQ community, minorities [and] race issues.”

Senior psychology major Tilisia Williams said she thinks book banning is harmful, especially for young people. 

“I feel bad for people like my younger sister who are going to have to grow up and not experience the different education of the LGBTQ+ community and racial problems,” Williams said. “[Book banning advocates] feel like they’re trying to protect people from something. They’re really creating more problems for themselves in the future.” 

Duchon said it’s important to celebrate Banned Books Week at YSU and people should always have the right to access information. 

“It’s always important for people to understand that their right to read is a constitutional freedom,” Duchon said. “Everybody grows by learning about other people, other cultures [and] other people’s experiences.”

Nespor said there are many ways to combat book banning for those that are interested.

“If you want to do something about book banning you can certainly read a banned book,” Nespor said. “You can also write to your state representatives and tell them that it’s an important topic and that they should not support anything that constricts people’s quest for information like that.” 

Nespor said to check out challenged books from libraries so circulation is documented and to report book bans to the American Library Association.

For more information on Banned Books Week, go to the American Library Association’s website.