American Library Association President Molly Raphael reminded readers of the Huffington Post of the importance of Banned Books Week, warning about attempts being made today to keep library books off the shelves.
Held annually during the last week of September, Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. It highlights the benefits of free and open access to information, while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.
In an opinion piece that appeared on Sept. 22, Raphael said these harms are much more prevalent than one would assume.
She wrote, “Yet, far more often than we may realize, individuals and groups have sought to restrict access to library books they believed were objectionable on religious, moral, or political grounds, thereby restricting the rights of every reader in their community.”
She used the example of the Republic (Mo.) school board’s decision this summer to remove Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” and Sarah Ockler’s “Twenty Boy Summer” from the school library as a result of a complaint that the book “teaches principles contrary to Biblical morality and truth.”
She wrote, “More than 150 students and their families have lost access to those books; while a local and national outcry caused the school board to return the books to the library, the books are now on a locked shelf and unavailable to students absent the consent of a parent or guardian.”
Raphael said it has been popular to argue that this type of censorship is no big deal; it is merely a way for parents to protect their children. Their view, she wrote, is, “What does it matter if a book is banned from a school or library if kids can obtain books from online retailers?”
But Raphael said such censorship IS a very big deal. “Such censorship matters to those who no longer can exercise the right to choose what they read for themselves. It matters to those in the community that cannot afford books or a computer, and for whom the library is a lifeline to the Internet and the printed word. And it matters to all of us who care about protecting our rights and our freedoms and who believe that no one should be able to forbid others in their community from reading a book because that book doesn’t comport with their views, opinions, or morality.”
She reminded us that public libraries and public school libraries exist for all people in the community and that “every community embraces a tapestry of beliefs, lifestyles, and values, from gay to straight, from liberal to conservative, rich and poor, and everywhere in between. Libraries are for everyone, and their collections need to be as diverse as the communities that they serve. Just because views are unpopular with the majority in a community does not mean that we should block individuals’ access to those views.”
She further pointed out that, as publicly funded government institutions, libraries are obligated to uphold the First Amendment rights of all people, including young people.
“Certainly, not every book is right for each reader, and librarians fully support parents’ rights to decide what books are best suited for their children. But no one should be able to make reading choices for other people’s children, or require that the reading materials available to a community be limited to that which comports with their personal beliefs.”
She illustrated the very real impact that free access to books can have on just one child by sharing the story of a little girl whose school was celebrating Banned Books Week by reading from banned and challenged works. During the celebration, a librarian began to read from “And Tango Makes Three,” an award-winning picture book by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson that tells the story of two male Emperor Penguins who hatch an egg and raise a chick together in the Central Park Zoo in New York City. This book is ranked as the number one most challenged book in the U.S., based on challenges that claim that the book is unsuitable for its target age group because of its religious viewpoint and homosexual themes.
Raphael wrote, “After the librarian finished reading “And Tango Makes Three,” the little girl–the child of same-sex parents–stood up and cheered. It was the first time ever that a book that mirrored her family life had been read and celebrated in public. And it was the first time that she felt as if she belonged. Had the book been banned from her library, all of that would have been taken away from her.”
Read the full text: Banned Books Week Reminds Us That Censorship Is Alive and Well in the Internet Age
For more information about Banned Books Week visit www.bannedbooksweek.org or www.ala.org/bbooks/.