View Book Bans and Challenges, 2007-2011 in a larger map
A friend sent me this map, maintained by the American Library Association, which plots cases of banned or challenged books that took place in the United States from 2007 to 2011. I think the aim of the map is to convey visually how prevalent book banning remains in U.S. schools and public libraries. We’re supposed to look at it on the continental zoom and see the country covered in blue hash marks. But if you zoom in and begin to analyze where book banning campaigns are taking place, some patterns emerge that run counter to a lot of the assumptions we commonly have about social conservativism in the United States. For one thing, we see a lot of clustering in the Upper Midwest and in New England, places which typically poll as more politically progressive. Compare this with the Bible belt, a region that is generally agreed to be a great deal more socially conservative than most places in the U.S. Occurrence of book banning is decidedly sparse throughout the South. Between Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas there are just 4 cases of book banning. There were 5 cases of banned books in the city of West Bend, Wisconsin alone.
If we approach the Banned Books map with the belief that places which institute book bans must be morally rigid and less tolerant, I think we err in our interpretation of what book banning really indicates. Certainly one’s moral stance will cause one to object to a book, but to go so far as to demand that a local government refrain from distributing the a work and and aiding its dissemination, one must actually care very deeply for the welfare of one’s own community and have an interest in the lives of one’s neighbors. I think you’ll find that places where we see a high occurrence of book banning also happen to be places where civic engagement is quite high; because in order to have enough conviction to demand that a book be removed from the public library or from the local high school curriculum, you have to, in the first place, care about the public library and be attentive to your child’s education. Additionally, in order for it to even matter if a book is carried in a library collection or assigned in school, children in the community have to be readers. These are all positive indicators in my opinion. What it says about places where there is a good deal less public dialog about books and their contents, I shall refrain from speculating.