Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Banned Books Week statistics

I'm a little late to Banned Books Week but it's definitely something that deserves mention. I've been going through various lists of banned/challenged books and I'm amazed again and again by the reasons books are banned, which books are banned, and how often. But lists never capture the pure essence of these stats as much as the stats themselves, so with a respectful tip of my hat to the ALA, these are the charts and graphs (originally here).

As we can see from the Challenges by Year bar graph above, the trend is overall a downward one but the spike every other year is slightly disconcerting. Numbers in their raw form and they don't tell a happy tale.

In the Challenges by Reason chart, the chunk that perhaps frustrates me most is the "Unsuited to Age", which is surprisingly large. How exactly does one go about defining what is suited to what ages, particularly when the age in question is high school ages (14-18)? There's a lot more to complain about this specific slice of the chart, which will be dealt with another time.
The funniest sliver has to be that of "nudity". I have to wonder what types of books these were to be banned for... nudity, which is typically something one sees, not something one reads. Or do some people find the words "naked" and "nude" to be offensive? Not fully clear on this one. And the most singularly curious piece of the pie is the "inaccurate" one. A lot to ponder over with that one...

The Challenges by Institution chart is perhaps the least interesting to me - going over the lists makes it quite obvious that the vast majority of challenged books are from libraries, school or otherwise. It's a disappointing list, obviously (seeing as libraries are meant to house knowledge), but not particularly insightful or surprising. Still, it's interesting to see how small the "Prison" slice is. I guess even museums are more likely to ban books than prisons. I wonder why that is...

The final chart, that of Challenges by Initiator, is perhaps the most interesting one of the four. First of all, the immediate stat is obvious - about 60% of all challenged books come from parents. Now, I obviously don't know the circumstances surrounding all the challenges but I've read through a number of these lists and the pattern that emerges is that parents dislike the messages certain books send to their kids. Sometimes these are ideas based in religion but not always. Refer again to the first pie chart - it seems that parents complained quite a bit about "appropriateness", language, explicit books (and how does one define this? More questions for a later time) and then, in smaller slivers, a number of questionable themes. Parents, it would appear, want to keep their children (their high school aged "children") away from themes often relevant to their age group.

Another important and interesting aspect to this final chart is that the teacher chunk isn't as thin as one might expect. I'll have to read through the lists more carefully to spot these cases, but I just can't understand what might lead a teacher to challenge a book. All the lists and statistics require a lot more time and mulling over than one single post can give so I recommend everyone head over to the ALA's Banned Books Week page and read up a little. There's a lot more to be said on the matter but for now, let the stats speak for themselves.

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