By Mary Wilkins-Jordan
Every year, libraries celebrate Banned Books Week.
Well, “celebrate” may not be quite the word.
We are very opposed to book banning, censorship, removing books the access based on only the ideas of a few people.
Libraries want to share information. Our code of ethics, from the American Library Association, requires us to “resist all efforts to censor library materials.”
The reasons are many that people may want to restrict other people’s access to certain books; but the most common reason are probably sex – particularly LGBTQ+ topics, ethnicity, and religion/magic topics. It’s pretty obvious that these are topics that are personal to people, and ideas they feel strongly about themselves and for their children, and for other people.
It’s easy to scream out that a book is bad. Or that book banners are evil. Or, whatever else people want to say.
But it’s probably a good idea to take a step back from these deeply felt emotions, and try to take a more thoughtful approach.
Not every book is right for every person. Not every person is right for every book. But every book has a person; every person has the perfect book. (And hopefully every person has lots and lots of books that are just right for them!)
Libraries, and librarians, make it our professional mission to make that connection. We want people to find the information they want, and to make sure it is the right thing for them. Not every book, every website, every podcast, every video will be right to solve that problem.
It’s a pretty easy step from there to see that taking away our options narrows our possible answers to questions. Taking away books – and ideas – from people in the community a library serves narrows their possible thoughts, ideas, plans for the future, and life choices.
Sure, there are bad books. There are trashy books that are still fun to read. There are books that are so dense and academic they are nearly impossible to read and understand. There are books that are out of date. (Remember when Pluto was a planet? A book that says that should not be in the library – it’s wrong.) Sometimes there are books that are moldy, torn, or the dog peed on them. (Those are definitely bad and need to be weeded from a library’s collection!)
So those are the easy books to identify. If it’s wrong or moldy – out it goes.
But when it’s just an idea that one person or one group really doesn’t like? Or thinks is dangerous? Or just wants to hide or cover up???? Things are a lot harder then.
Librarians want to be respectful of people’s ideas – all people. And that means taking it seriously when we get Screamers: the people who scream at us for hurting their children with books, with spreading evil, or whatever else they do not want in a library. (I’ve had a few people who politely talked with me about their concerns. But it’s usually screaming, in person or in an email. Hence, my categorization.)
I’ll be honest: this is sometimes tough. But it’s important.
That need, expressed by members of the community, should be listened to.
It does not always need to enacted by the library.
It’s okay to know a book is not for you. It’s not okay to know it’s not right for someone else. Too often people who are concerned have not even read the books; they just see a short description and think they know the content.
And that is generally where a library will come down.
It’s even more troubling when you dive into books that people request to be banned from libraries, from all people, and from a community. A startling number of these books are written by people of color, by women, by immigrants, by members of the LGBTQ+ community, or by other marginalized groups. A number of books are best sellers (think Harry Potter – topping the most challenged for many years!), or award winners. This is not something old fashioned that happened back in The Bad Old Days of the 1950s – this is happening today. Check out this story from last week; the ban on these books was lifted after huge public outcry – but it was in place for over a year.
This is a list from the American Library Association: Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2020
“The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 156 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services in 2020. Of the 273 books that were targeted, here are the most challenged, along with the reasons cited for censoring the books:”
Quick note: Just because someone SAYS the book in question held ideas/did damage, does NOT mean it is true.
Links are to books in the SCTCC library, where we are pleased to offer you a diversity of ideas and books. Or the links make take you to the place you can sign in to borrow it from another library, and pick it up here.
Read books for yourself. Know if something is right for you. Don’t let someone else tell you what to read.
- George by Alex Gino [You can borrow from another library using this link]
Reasons: Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community”
- Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds
Reasons: Banned and challenged because of author’s public statements, and because of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people
- All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely [You can borrow from another library using this link] Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism, and because it was thought to promote anti-police views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now”
- Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Reasons: Banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint and it was claimed to be biased against male students, and for the novel’s inclusion of rape and profanity
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct by the author
- Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin [You can borrow from another library using this link]
Reasons: Challenged for “divisive language” and because it was thought to promote anti-police views
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Reasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “white savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience
- Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Reasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and racist stereotypes, and their negative effect on students
- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Reasons: Challenged for profanity, and it was thought to promote an anti-police message
We will have a display of books in the library for Banned Books Week. Come over and assert your First Amendment rights to enjoy books by reading them or checking them out!
Looking for another book to read? You could do worse than working your way through this list of the top 100 most banned and challenged books over the last decade! We have several of these in our library, and will be happy to borrow them from another library for you.
Read widely. Find books you enjoy. Libraries are here for you!