San Francisco Public Library Raises Awareness about Censorship in Prisons for Banned Book Week


San Francisco – Established in 1982 in response to a wave of censorship of books at schools, bookstores and public libraries, Banned Book Week is an annual event that promotes the “freedom to read”. At a time when school boards are debating critical race theory, this year’s Banned Book Week is especially timely. San Francisco Public Library is turning the spotlight on the little-known issue of censorship in the prison system, which is the largest book ban in the nation. This Friday, October 1 at 2 p.m., Dr. Tammi Arford, Kurtis Tanaka and Hari Gopal, leading experts on censorship in prison libraries, will engage in a discussion about how people who are incarcerated navigate the many kinds of book restrictions inside our detention system.

According to a study by PEN America, a non-profit that is dedicated to ensuring that people everywhere have “access the views, ideas and literatures of others,” literature that pertains to race and civil rights are disproportionately censured in jails and prisons due to the belief that they may undermine the prison’s social order. They also found a lack of transparency around which books were subject to bans as well as a deficiency of oversight and a clear method for appealing restrictions.

“We know that, because of the way that policing happens in the United States, the majority of people who are incarcerated in the U.S. are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).  This means that censorship in prisons disproportionately reduced information access for people who are BIPOC.  San Francisco Public Library has worked with the SF Sheriff’s Department since 2017 to provide a range of books in the San Francisco jails.  We repeatedly hear from our patrons that access to books and librarians is life changing.  This program will highlight ways that everyone can support incarcerated people’s reliable access to books and needed information,” says Jeanie Austin, Jail and Reentry Services Librarian.

About the presenters 

Dr. Tammi Arford is an Associate Professor of Crime and Justice Studies at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Her research and teaching interests include punishment and social control; abolition and transformative justice; and penal spectatorship, collective memory, aesthetics, and visual representations of the carceral. She also teaches university courses at the Bristol County House of Correction and has been involved with several books to prisoners programs. 

Hari Gopal is a long-time resident of the metro Atlanta area, he has served on boards spanning education (International Baccalaureate Young Alumni Board) and the arts (The Alliance Theatre's Advisory Board). In addition, he has raised funds for local radio and cancer research. His most recent work focuses the state of Georgia with XBooks. 

Kurtis Tanaka is a senior analyst for the strategic consulting and research program for academic libraries, scholarly publishers, learned societies, and museums at the not-for-profit Ithaka S+R. His work is broadly framed around understanding how people access information and how libraries and other stakeholders in the academic and cultural sectors can better support information access. Currently, his research focusses on how incarcerated people access information and how technology, surveillance, prison censorship, and self-censorship intersect and impact access.  

ITHAKA is a not for profit with a mission to improve access to knowledge and education. It does this through its various services including Ithaka S+R, JSTOR, Artstor, Portico, and Reveal Digital. Over the past few years, it has also sought to support incarcerated learners through several grant funded initiatives, including: 

  • Research to advance technological equity for incarcerated college students. 
  • The development of a research infrastructure to support academic research on higher education in prison programs, with the aim to increase program quality. 
  • Research on media review policy, prison censorship, and self-censorship. 
  • The development of JSTOR’s offline index to support incarcerated college students. 
  • The development of Reveal Digital’s American Prison Newspapers initiative, an open access collection of digitized prison newspapers spanning two centuries. 

Panel: Censorship in Prisons (Virtual)
DATE: Friday, October 1, 2 p.m.
COST:  Free
Registration: Webinar Registration - Zoom

About San Francisco Public Library:

San Francisco Public Library is dedicated to free and equal access to information, knowledge, independent learning and the joys of reading for our diverse community. The library system is made up of 27 neighborhood branches, the San Francisco Main Library at Civic Center and four bookmobiles.

To learn more, please visit and follow on Twitter @SFPublicLibrary and on Instagram @sfpubliclibrary.


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Kate Patterson, San Francisco Public Library
(415) 557-4252 /

九月 27, 2021