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Central Oregon libraries celebrate Banned Books Week with events about censorship

(Updated: adding video, comments from library representative)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- This week, Sept. 18-24 is known as Banned Books Week across the nation. If you're an avid reader or not, the week has gained more attention in recent years from the active climate of more books being banned in other states.

The week stems from the First Amendment and rights to intellectual freedom.

Emily O'Neal, technical services manager for the Deschutes Public Library, says it's an annual spotlight on book censorship.

"It's our ability to think what you want to think, learn what you want to learn, read what you want to read, and really develop your own thought processes," O'Neal told NewsChannel 21 on Wednesday.

O'Neal says two to four books are challenged each year in Central Oregon. The types of books challenged vary.

"Anything and everything," O'Neal said. "It's unbelievable, the things that people will find."

But she says there are certain themes that typically get challenged and banned.

"Concerns about LGTBQ content, concerns about BIPOC content, concerns about race relation, perception of our police and society," O'Neal said. "So really, all the things that we look at in our world and see a bipartisan divide, on other fronts, they're being noted in concerns that people are finding in the information they seek in the library."

The top 10 most challenged books of 2021 have these themes.

There are no libraries or schools in Central Oregon where books have been banned. The only place where books have been banned in the past year is in the Medford School District, officials say.

The book, The Handmaid's Tale, was removed from shelves in April.

"What's interesting about intellectual freedom is that when people challenge books, it's because typically something doesn't fit their worldview," O'Neal said. "We talk a lot about society, right, not feeling connected, divided, left and right, up and down, black and white. There are all of these factors that we've put into place where there's one or the other."

"And one of the best ways we can learn from one another and start to bridge those gaps is to read information that doesn't fit those world views," O'Neal added.

The Deschutes Public Library recognizes Banned Books Week every year. This year, it's doing more to teach the community about intellectual freedom. It's hosting a virtual panel discussion at 6 p.m. Thursday, discussing what censorship looks like in Central Oregon.

The Redmond Collective Action is also hosting an event, called Let Freedom Read. It's on Sunday and benefits Redmond School District Libraries.

Here's some background on each of Thursday's panelists:

April Witteveen, Library Director of the Crook County Public Library, Emily O’Neal, Technical Services Manager at the Deschutes Public Library, and Pia Alliende, district librarian for the Redmond School District, are speaking about their personal experience with challenged and banned books in Central Oregon.

Emily O’Neal, Technical Services Manager at Deschutes Public Library: Emily has been a member of the Oregon Intellectual Freedom Committee since October 2020, and began serving as co-chair for the OIFC starting with the fiscal year of 2021-2022. Beyond her membership to the OIFC, Emily has been a champion supporter of intellectual freedom within her role as Technical Services Manager at Deschutes Public Library. Additionally, Emily currently serves on the Technical Services Round Table, serving as chair in 2018-2019 and again 2020-2021, she was a previous member of the EDI Anti-Racism Committee, serving as a guest writer to the EDI Anti-Racism toolkit.

Emily relocated to Bend in April of 2016 from Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where she was formerly the Technical Services and Collection Management Librarian for Bud Werner Memorial Library. Prior to Colorado, Emily was the Library Operations Manager of Collections for the University of New Mexico. When not managing a Technical Services department, Emily enjoys teaching dance or spending time outdoors hiking, snowboarding, rock climbing and paddle boarding with her husband and two dogs. Her favorite “banned book” is Harry Potter.

April Witteveen: April has worked in Oregon libraries since 2005. She loves making community connections and challenging any and all stereotypes about modern librarianship. Outside of work April spends time with her young family, splashing around in the Cascades lakes and finding new neighborhood playgrounds. April’s favorite banned book is Ashley Hope Pérez’s Out of Darkness. April served on the American Library Association’s Michael L. Printz Award Committee that gave this incredible and unforgettable young adult novel an Honor medal.

Pia Alliende, Redmond School District Librarian: Pia served as a co-chair of the Oregon Library Association EDIA-Antiracist Committee during the fiscal year of 2021-2022 and as a member of the Redmond School District Equity Committee since September 2020. Pia raised around $2,200 for RSD school libraries through a bikepacking trip she did with her daughter in October 2021. She was one of the three 2022 SLJ School Librarian of the Year finalists. She has published three non-fiction books in Spanish. When not at school, Pia enjoys biking, volunteering for local organizations that focus on enhancing the lives of BIPOC families or spending time indoor and outdoors alone or with her husband, two adult children and three winner/chihuahua dogs. Her favorite "banned book" is 1984 by George Orwell.

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Carly Keenan

Carly Keenan is a multimedia journalist and producer for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Carly here.

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