It’s autumn and that means Banned Books Week is coming up (September 27 – October 3)! Banned Books Week is one of my favorite annual library-related events. It’s a chance for everyone in LIS, from library school students to the president of ALA, to connect with people outside of our field about a core library value: a commitment to libraries (and communities) free of censorship.
This “Mapping Censorship” tool was created by Chris Peterson of the National Coalition Against Censorship and Alita Edelman of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression. The map is now updated by the American Library Association.
We need librarians who can handle book challenges now more than ever! I’m always surprised when I meet people who don’t understand that books are still being consistently challenged in their communities (see the map above for a handful of examples). These challenges happen so much more often than you’d think and many of them go largely unpublicized.
I’m all for children and young adults reading material that is sensitive to their age and maturity levels. That being said, I think reading is an avenue for self-discovery, exploration, and imagination. I am always surprised when parents make the decision to not only actively limit their children’s reading activity (beyond the average age-suggestions, as is usually the case with challenges), but go on to suggest (as many do) that the book(s) in question should be kept from other children as well. This seems incredibly presumptive, as well as sets a dangerous precedent for the child – that certain ideas and topics should be avoided and banned (for yourself and others) because they don’t align with your beliefs.
I can’t help but see the effects of such thinking in the actions of a group of college freshman at Duke University who refused to read the 2015 summer reading book for the Duke Class of 2019, Fun Home. A coming-of-age graphic novel, Fun Home is a memoir that explores the author, Alison Bechdel’s, relationship with her father, hometown, and emerging sexuality. A group of students refused to read the book, citing its exploration of LGBT sexuality. According to a Duke spokesperson, “reading [the book] was voluntary, though he hoped that ‘students will begin their time at Duke with open minds and a willingness to explore new ideas, whether they agree with them or not.'”
This, to me, is the most depressing outcome of book censorship – that individuals eventually become self-censoring, to the point where they won’t read something for fear of opening themselves up to new ideas. This is the antithesis of what librarians and libraries are striving to create: informed, democratically-engaged, critical-thinking citizens who are open to learning and discovery.
To end on a more positive note, here’s an example of Banned Books Week bringing out the best in librarians: Barbara Jones, the director of the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (dream job, much?), talking about banned books, censorship, awareness, and just general library awesomeness. I love her responses, particularly to the caller who says that to “prod” people to read books that have been banned is a “weird attitude” to have.
Have you read any banned books this year? So far this year I’ve read two of the Top 10 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2014: Fun Home and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Both were excellent; would highly recommend!