Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Once Again, Banning Books

There are some events that we wish would become obsolete, so we didn't have to revisit them year after year. But censorship seems alive and well, so we are writing again about Banned Books Week, which began on September 25th and runs through October 1st this year.

This event is spearheaded by the American Library Association  (ALA) and its Office of Intellectual Freedom. We've written about Banned Books Week before: in 2011, 2013, and 2014. [This is our 933rd post, so we beg your indulgence if we revisit certain subjects.] But the list of banned books keeps changing. The 2015 list, for example, includes Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, two books that became extraordinary Broadway productions and which won Tony Awards for Best Play and Best Musical, respectively, in 2015.

Many classic books also have been banned in different places at different points in time, including The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, and 1984.

It's instructive to see where challenges to books originate, and the ALA has created a graphic illustrating this information. One of the benefits to our digital age is that access to books no longer depends on the standards of a local library, school board, or bookstore. Books are available in numerous formats from a wide variety of sources, and there is an extraordinary trove of information that readers of all ages can access as they make their decisions about what to read.

Why are some books challenged? The reasons seem to change over time, since the subject matter of contemporary books tends to reflect our society's focus and concerns, but sexuality and religion seem to be the most frequent reasons. Of course, parents need to make sure that the books their young children read are suitable for their level of understanding and reflect values with which they are comfortable. But making certain titles unavailable for older teens and adults in a community violates the Library Bill of Rights established by the ALA, which includes such rights as:

  • Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.
  • Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.
  • Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.


Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association

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