ALA President encourages us to celebrate Banned Books Week in letter to USA Today

Molly Raphael
In response to a column that appeared in USA Today, ALA President Molly Raphael reminded readers of the importance of Banned Books Week, which is held annually to celebrate the freedom to read, as well as to call attention to attempts to ban and challenge books.

In the column, author Jonah Goldberg derided the attention given to Banned Books Week, writing, “Indeed, it’s a staple of nearly every major newspaper to at least let the American Library Association air its dire warnings about the growing threat to the freedom to read.”
But to Goldberg, “Banned Books Week is an exercise in propaganda.”

In his view, book challenges are overhyped, noting that, “reported challenges have dropped from 513 in 2008 to 348 last year. The historic norm is a mere 400 to 500 bans or challenges.”

But he also added that Banned Books Week demeans parents and other citizens who take an interest in the schools, in the process elevating the judgment of librarians to “unimpeachable heights.”

Goldberg wrote, “If you complain that your 8-year-old kid shouldn’t be reading a book with lots of sex, violence or profanity until he or she is a little older, you’re not a good parent; you’re a would-be book-banner.”

In her letter to the editor Raphael responded by emphasizing the important issues at stake, among them our First Amendment rights, and warning of the dangers of censorship at the hands of publicly funded schools and libraries.

She said, “When a library removes a book from its shelves because someone disapproves of the ideas or opinions contained in the book, that is censorship. When it is done by publicly funded schools and libraries — government agencies — it is a violation of the First Amendment.”

She pointed out that, far from demeaning the right of parents to guide reading choices, librarians have always supported a parent’s right to decide what his or her family should read.

“But in our democracy,” she said, “other families should be able to make different choices for their own families, not dictated by a particular political or religious viewpoint.”

Raphael wrote of the ramifications of the removal of even one book. “It affects the entire community. We need to remember that public libraries serve everyone, including those who are too young or too poor to buy their own books or own a computer.”

She finished by writing, “Contrary to commentary writer Jonah Goldberg’s assertion, librarians and library users celebrate Banned Books Week as a testament to the strength of our freedom in the United States. We celebrate the freedom to read because we all know that we are so fortunate to live in a country that protects our freedom to choose what we want to read. If you doubt this, just ask anyone from a totalitarian society. That is why we draw attention to acts of censorship that chill the freedom to read.”

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