Sullivan Free Library's Blog

September 29, 2010

Book Banning: Not a Good Idea

As a librarian, one of my favorite times of the year is the end of September when libraries, booksellers and publishers across the country join forces to celebrate Banned Books Week (BBW) This event was initiated in 1982 by the American Library Association (ALA)  in effort to promote awareness of the importance of  the First Amendment and intellectual freedom.  Each year, the ALA gathers information submitted by libraries across the country about efforts to remove or ban books and compiles a list of the most challenged books.

Opponents of BBW argue that books are rarely banned anymore and that too much is made of this subject.  While it is true that books are rarely banned in the sense of not being published or allowed to be sold (as was often the case in times past), unfortunately, books continue to be challenged and restricted all too often.  Most often, the challenges occur in school settings, by parents or community members who object to books being used as part of the classroom curriculum.

Perhaps the most recent and timely example is that of Stockton, Missouri where the Board of Education voted 7-0 earlier this month to remove “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie from both use in classrooms and the high school library.     The book was banned after a complaint by just one parent, even though educators and students argued for its retention.   Alexie is a well-respected author whose body of work has received numerous awards and critical acclaim.  This particular book has been labeled as upbeat and inspiring,  yet the BOE felt that all of that was cancelled out by the language and topics in the book. 

People who attempt to remove books from schools and libraries are usually well-intentioned, feeling that they are removing harmful influences.   In reality, the inability to  judge a book by it’s overall context and merit rather than by isolated examples and to accept different points of view are far more harmful trends.  As Henry Joseph Jackson so aptly said:  ” Did you ever hear anyone say, “That work had better be banned because I might read it and it might be very damaging to me?”

Attempting to restrict books is counter-productive.  Nothing gives a book more appeal than knowing there are people who don’t want you to read it.   Alexie’s book will now be more popular than ever.

The theme for this year’s BBW is “Think for yourself and allow others to do the same.”  Each of us has the right to choose what books we want to read and those we’d rather avoid.  Parent’s have the right to do that for their children as well.  No one has the right to decide what other people should not be able to read.

Exercise your freedom to read and pick up a book that has been banned or challenged!

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