So, if any of you are on Facebook and happen to have librarians as Friends, you are probably seeing a lot of posts about Banned Book Week. Or am I the only person to have a lot of librarian friends on Facebook?
Banned Book Week is an annual event organized by the American Library Association in order to bring attention to censorship, or attempts at censoring reading materials around the country. To be honest, most books are “challenged” — that is, someone brings an official complaint about a book to a school board or public library board in the hopes that the book will be pulled from the shelf. If that plea is successful and the book is pulled from the shelves, the book is then considered “banned.”
I think schools see an overwhelmingly higher number of challenges than public libraries because books are assigned to students, so they “have” to read a certain title. Public libraries don’t assign materials – although I have been known to bully someone into reading a book I’m sure they will love – but that doesn’t mean we are not free from attempts at censorship.
I’ve worked in public libraries for 30 years now, and I’ve had perhaps a handful of patrons ask me to remove a book from circulation, usually because it’s too explicit or graphic in nature. I once had a woman suggest, not to remove a certain title, but to mark it with a warning label: No one under 36 should read this book.
I know what you’re thinking: 36? Why 36? I’m not sure.
I also had a woman return a romance with every (to her) objectionable word, sentence and sometimes entire scenes blacked out with her trusty Sharpie®.
I’m all for being a discriminating reader. I’m also all for parents being aware of what their children are reading, if they are afraid their children might check out books that are beyond their emotional maturity. To me, that’s called “being a parent.” It’s very important to understand that you can only parent your own children or judge acceptable reading materials for yourself, and not for everyone. If you find a book to be offensive, put it down – along with your Sharpie.
If your child is reading a book that you think is inappropriate, suggest a different book to them.
Interestingly enough, the author with the most challenges in the past year, according to ALA, is Dave Pilky. You may know him as the author of the very popular series for children, Captain Underpants. Move over, Harry Potter!
I like to celebrate Banned Books Week by reading a book that was banned somewhere, at some time. There is an astoundingly wide range of titles to choose from, including The Old Man and the Sea, The Diary of Anne Frank, Catch-22, Fahrenheit 451 (ah, irony!) and many more.
You can find all kinds of lists of banned and challenged books at www.ala.org/bbooks/
Go check out the list, and celebrate your freedom to read.