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banned books

Banned Books Week 2015

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Please welcome Charlie Owen, our Acquisitions and Administrative Assistant and guest blogger for this week!

As some of you may know, last week was the annual observance of Banned Books Week. The American Library Association, or ALA, and libraries all over the country celebrate this and use it as a means of making known that to this day people attempt to censor free speech by challenging the presence of books in all types of libraries. Typically the challenges arise from themes in books that go against the beliefs of individuals or groups of people. Wheelock produces many educators who may experience challenges, and regardless of your major you may find yourself witnessing a challenge in a library in your community. These challenges are often made by people with very strong convictions who really want to see the materials in question removed from the library.

That said I do not want to scare anyone into feeling like a challenge should be a confrontation. Rather than consider challenges negatively, you can more positively utilize the time to discuss with parents or members of the community the importance of diverse viewpoints. Try to remember that when people challenge books they are typically doing it with a sense of trying to protect their loved ones. By acknowledging that all opinions are valid and having a conversation rather than a fight you can build relationships with those who hold opposing views. A crucial service libraries provide is to make available books with viewpoints by marginalized groups in society to supplement those of the majority.

You can get more information about book challenges on the ALA’s website at http://www.ala.org/bbooks/. Take a look at the ALA’s Frequently Challenged Books website, http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks, to see some of the most challenged books throughout the years. You might also be interested in checking out some of these books Wheelock owns that are frequently on the list of challenged materials.


Banned Books Week (one week late)

Last week, bookstores, schools, and libraries around the country celebrated Banned Books Week. Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the “freedom to read.” While the idea of censorship may seem antiquated, more than 11,300 books have been challenged in the United States since the first Banned Books Week in 1982. You can learn more about frequently challenged books on the American Library Association’s website. Some challenges to books are exasperating. Others are alarming.

Take, for instance, what happened in Arizona. In 2010, a state law was passed that resulted in the banning, not only of books, but of an entire school curriculum. The law stated,BBW_vert_banner2

“A school district or charter school in this state shall not include in its program of instruction any courses or classes that include any of the following:

1.  Promote the overthrow of the United States government.
2.  Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.
3.  Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
4.  Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”

Following this legislation, the Tucson Unified School District dismantled its widely praised Mexican-American Studies program. In dismantling the program, officials removed hundreds of curriculum materials from schools and classrooms. Among the removed materials were books, including Rethinking Columbus: The next 500 years, Critical race theory, and Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  In 2013, following years of community protests and national outcry, the school district voted to un-ban several of the removed books.

Challenges to what we read and, consequently, censorship of what we think, persist. The antidote? Go ahead. Read. Encourage others to do the same. Don’t let anyone stop you.


Can Censorship EVER be OK?

Is censorship ever ok?

Every October, the Library acknowledges Banned Books Month with an exhibit of banned titles. We pat ourselves on the back because, after all, we don’t ban books. We’re librarians, educators, scholars. We’re for intellectual freedom 100%. Aren’t we?

In September, Boyd Tonkin published a column in The Independent in response to an exhibit of banned titles created by London libraries. He felt the titles were too easy, titles we’re too comfortable defending. His point was that almost everyone believes in censorship at one time or another. To illustrate, he compiled a list of 10 titles—that weren’t included in the London exhibit—he thought would be more difficult to defend. His list is not comfortable reading. It reminds us of the other side of the banned books discussion, the part that happens after we say, “I’d never, ever censor” when we stammer out, “Except for that book.”

Tomkins’ list includes Did Six Million Really Die? “a Holocaust denial manual” according to BookTryst. I consider it hate speech, designed solely for fueling anti-Semitism. But Tomkins’ list also includes Osama bin Laden’s Messages to the World, about which one reviewer stated, “Bin Laden has been precise in telling America the reasons he is waging war on us. None of the reasons has anything to do with our freedom, liberty and democracy but everything to do with US policies and actions in the Muslim world.” That happens to be a statement I agree with. Another person—perhaps someone whose life was touched by the events of 9/11—might consider that statement outrageous and untrue, and bin Laden’s book good only for burning.

Further down the list are Pauline Réage’s Story of O, a well-known erotic novel about sado-masochism, and AM Homes’ The End of Alice, a novel told from the point of view of an imprisoned pedophile. Once upon a time (in the 70s), when sexual mores were more liberal than they are now, reading Story of O was something of a rite of passage. Definitely not a big deal. The End of Alice sounds horrifying beyond words.

Is there a point where free speech is trumped by hate speech or when content becomes dangerous? It’s a tough issue. So what do you do? You start by trying to approach things critically rather than emotionally. Perhaps you examine both sides of a controversial topic. You ask questions, do research, look at the writing—is it inflammatory solely for the sake of being inflammatory? Perhaps you talk with other people, friends, your professors, or, and perhaps especially, those who don’t agree with you. Essentially, you approach something controversial by expanding your knowledge base. It won’t make it any easier to defend some titles, but it will help move the issue from a no discussion, stark black-and-white to a shades of gray dialogue.


What’s your favorite banned book?


September 25th-October 2nd is Banned Books Week. Commemorated every year by the American Library Association, the purpose of this week is to draw attention to books that have been challenged, banned or withdrawn from library collections. The ALA believes that since books represent freedom of speech, they should be available for everyone to judge and evaluate.

Below is a list of the Wheelock Library staff’s favorite banned books.

Let us know what YOUR favorite is!

Adam’s favorite: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Allyson’s favorite: To Kill a Mockingbird
Ann’s favorite: the Harry Potter series
Anne’s favorites: Little Red Riding Hood and And Tango Makes Three
Ashley’s favorite: Lolita
Brenda’s favorite: The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
Molly’s favorite: The Handmaid’s Tale