Nathan Brown/ Nevada Sagebrush

Posters decorate the front steps of the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center in honor of Banned Books Week on Thursday, Sept. 25. Grassroots Books employee Geoff McFarland said that the event was held outside in hopes of attracting more attention from students.

By Jennifer Marbley

The fourth annual American Library Association’s Banned Books Week at the University of Nevada, Reno gave students the chance to read passages from books deemed too controversial for schools and libraries across the United States.

The open-mic community reading was held last Thursday on the front steps of the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center. Community members read passages from classic books such as “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck and Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax.” Previously banned books were given out for free in order to protest the censorship of ideas in literature.
Banned Books Week, held in partnership with local bookstore Grassroots Books, aimed to make attendees aware that books are still being banned today.

“People think of it as ancient history, as something that happened during the Salem witch trials, as something that happened forever ago and it’s a dead issue,” said Grassroots Books employee Geoff McFarland, who helped organize Banned Books Week.

Junior Elizabeth Johnson was on her way home when she stopped to see the event. She was unaware that one of her favorite novels, “The Catcher in the Rye,” had been previously restricted from public schools and libraries. She said that as an avid reader, she feels access to books is important.

“Books belong to their readers,” Johnson said. “It’s not a danger to society to learn about these things.”
According to the ALA, banning books is still an issue with over 5,000 books challenged in libraries and schools across the country in the last decade for a variety of reasons.

Books that are frequently cited for use of sexually explicit material accounted for nearly 2,000 challenged books between 2000 and 2009, according to the Office for Intellectual Freedom. Other reasons include violence and homosexuality.

Rudy Leon, a Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center outreach and instruction librarian said most books get challenged and banned at public schools and libraries by a parent that is offended by its content.

McFarland said books serve as a place for young readers to experiment with new ideas.

“We’re scared that our kids are learning about sex or drugs, violence, their own bodies, but I believe that a book is actually the safest place to encounter these things that scare us,” McFarland said.

Access to books in libraries and schools is a concern for some students such as senior Dylan Smith.

“Freedom of speech is meant to promote the arts and sciences,” Smith said. “If there were a limit on free speech, we would be deciding what opportunities to promote and which to squander. And I don’t think that’s right.”

Deisy Hernandez, outreach coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union, read from “The Giver” by Lois Lowry at the open-mic event. She said she loves the book because it follows the narrator, Jonas, as he begins to discover sexuality and other controversial issues. Jonas’ ability to question is important for young readers to see, Hernandez said.

“These books teach children about empowerment and being themselves and that’s a good thing,” said Hernandez. “If we ban them, we’re robbing our children of some really important messaging.”

Jennifer Marbley can be reached at