Book banning is nothing new, but it’s making headlines once again. With that in mind, a display at DU’s Anderson Academic Commons showcases a collection of books notable for being banned repeatedly. These books were curated from the University’s Special Collections and Archives by Madison Sussmann, exhibits librarian and assistant professor.
The first known book banning in the U.S. happened in 1637. Centuries later, some books get banned or challenged constantly. Think “Huckleberry Finn” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
As the display makes clear, banning a book may not carry the intended consequence. “What does ‘banned’ mean?” archivist David Fasman asks, noting that bans mostly happen in school libraries and in a small number of states. What’s more, banning a book from one location frequently generates more interest for it in nearby collections.
The idea of banning is not limited to books, says Fasman, who taught an enrichment program course at DU in November that explored modern and historical examples of censorship, from Socrates to social media. He is especially troubled by book burning, which he sees as a prelude to something far more troubling. Fasman compares images taken of a 2022 book bonfire in Tennessee to a historical photograph of Nazis burning books in Berlin in 1933. “They look nearly identical,” he says. “It’s only black and white versus color.”
Katherine Crowe, curator of Special Collections and Archives, says librarians play a critical role in allowing ethical access to meaningful content—including books that have been challenged, banned and burned.
“Sometimes you have to defend objectionable materials,” she says. “Libraries are not just warehouses for books. We are a place where people meet and, hopefully, create new knowledge and make connections.”