Banned Books Week: Sep. 29-Oct. 6

One of my fellow posters noticed my signature and asked me to post a thread about Banned Books Week. I did a little research, and discovered that someone was kind enough to post a thread last year about the same subject. So, where to start…

This is my first semester as a library science student, but not my first exposure to Banned Books Week. I’ve read a number of banned books, but not because they were banned books; I was initially attracted to them because of their content rather than their controversy. While I was volunteering today, I asked my supervisor about our library’s policy toward books, and it’s as follows: if a book becomes “too objectionable” by a significant enough number of people for the children’s or teens’ section, it gets moved to the adult books. It’s rare, and there’s only one children’s/teens’ book in the adult section at this point. It’s still available, but they don’t restrict anyone’s access the information available throughout the library, as their job is to provide information rather than police who uses it.

In 1953, The American Library Association compiled a statement titled “The Freedom to Read Statement.” Within it, they propose the following ideas* in regard to the freedoms of readers and access to information:

[ul][li] It is in the public interest for publishers and librarians to make available the widest diversity of views and expressions, including those that are unorthodox, unpopular, or considered dangerous by the majority.[/li]
[li]Publishers, librarians, and booksellers do not need to endorse every idea or presentation they make available. It would conflict with the public interest for them to establish their own political, moral, or aesthetic views as a standard for determining what should be published or circulated.[/li]
[li]It is contrary to the public interest for publishers or librarians to bar access to writings on the basis of the personal history or political affiliations of the author.[/li]
[li]There is no place in our society for efforts to coerce the taste of others, to confine adults to the reading matter deemed suitable for adolescents, or to inhibit the efforts of writers to achieve artistic expression[/li]
[li]It is not in the public interest to force a reader to accept the prejudgment of a label characterizing any expression or its author as subversive or dangerous.[/li]
[li]It is the responsibility of publishers and librarians, as guardians of the people’s freedom to read, to contest encroachments upon that freedom by individuals or groups seeking to impose their own standards or tastes upon the community at large; and by the government whenever it seeks to reduce or deny public access to public information.[/li]
[li]It is the responsibility of publishers and librarians to give full meaning to the freedom to read by providing books that enrich the quality and diversity of thought and expression. By the exercise of this affirmative responsibility, they can demonstrate that the answer to a “bad” book is a good one, the answer to a “bad” idea is a good one.[/ul][/li][/quote]

A lot of rational people would agree that these ideas put forth by the ALA are a great idea; however, there are still dissenters out there that believe that censorship (according to their own guidelines) is the best policy for public and school libraries to have. There are still court battles being fought for and against freedom of information through libraries, and there are still people stealing or checking out books (and refusing to return them) to restrict other people’s use of those books.

There are lots of reasons behind people wanting to ban books, and these days, many of them stem from trying to protect their children from things that are disagreeable to the parent: “I don’t like X and don’t want my child exposed to it, so nobody should have access to books that have X in them.” Book burning is not as prevalent as in the past, but it serves the same silly mission as stealing books that are deemed “controversial” or “inappropriate” by a group: the ultimate goal is to restrict as much access to the information that offends that group as possible. Recent history has shown, though, that drawing attention to books that are considered “controversial” only increase the number of people who access that information in the long run.

There are some recent articles dealing with individuals selecting to remove a book from circulation at their local libraries or over the placement of books aimed at children and teens. The following books have been involved:
King and King
It’s Perfectly Normal
Fat Kid Rules the World (The author’s blog post about the controversy surrounding her book)

Here is an official site about banned books.

[sub]*I only quoted the main points and not the explanatory paragraphs after each point for the sake of brevity.[/sub]

I don’t know about your library system, but in the San Bernardino County (CA) library system, according to their computerized catalog, there is not a single book by or about Robert G. Ingersoll, who, by any measure, was one of the most prominent thinkers and speakers of the nineteenth century in the United States. I was angered, but not surprised by this, since SB County is a conservative Christian enclave and Ingersoll was known in his time as “the Great Agnostic.” In another California county, the entire collected works (ten large volumes) of Ingersoll’s writings and speeches was found, on the shelves, in a small local library. It just depends on where you live, I suppose, whether the ALA’s guidelines are followed or not. And freedom, after all, is relative.

Thank you so much for the reminder! Especially in a place like the Dope, where almost everyone is a voracious reader, we should celebrated Banned Books Week.


At our library, if a children’s book becomes objectionable, it’s moved into the Parent/Teacher collection (examples are Heather Has Two Mommies, And Tango Makes Three, etc).

Everyone has access to that section and it’s only 15 feet away from the picture books – it’s just not a section a kid usually browses through.


We don’t have any Ingersoll, but that’s mostly because the local area doesn’t generate enough interest in books that a major academic library would hold. Unfortunately, a lot of public libraries (especially around here in Florida) are getting customer service oriented to the point of trying to make it the poor man’s Borders, so those who haven’t been exposed to a university research library are really missing out on the wonders that a good nonfiction collection can hold. There’s a reasonably good selection for a public library, but it’s just not the same as going through the stacks at an academic library; we’re required to “weed the stacks” periodically, and some of those books are pulled based on lack of use.

I don’t know about your systems in Florida. In California, most counties have library systems covering the entire county, making the flow of books from one library to another as easy as reserving a book on a computer. The book is then taken from the library that has it and delivered to the one that doesn’t. The reader can return the book to his/her own library, from whence it is returned to the branch that owns it. County systems can track and handle hundreds of thousands of books in this way, and there is no excuse for them to so limit their collections. The lack of Ingersoll in this particular system, to my mind, doubtless reflects the bias of those who purchase the books. It is a form of censorship. If Ingersoll had been an obscure person in his time there might be some excuse. But he was as well known in the nineteenth century as, say, Rush Limbaugh was in the late twentieth and is to this day. I detest Limbaugh, but I wouldn’t exclude his books from any library even if I had the power to do so.

I’m really glad you posted this information, nashiitashi.

I’m planning on participating. I’ve been meaning to buy* And Tango Makes Three* for awhile now, since I read about it hear last year. Celebrating Banned Book Week is an excellent reason to do so.

Ingersoll isn’t available through Osceola County, but is available through Orange County, which gets an assload more funding because they are run more separately from the county than Osceola and have better funding because of the existence of Orlando in their county and the fact that they have three times the number of library branches and, consequently, have a lot more books in their system. I’m sure I could ILL it, though, if needed.

Osceola County is a small system with very little funding, and thus it is forced to have a policy of not carrying books that are not used regularly enough. There’s a lot of rural areas, and the average person above the age of 18 using the library is not using for academic purposes, as there are a handful of universities and community colleges within a reasonable driving distance. There are hiring freezes all over the state, and the one for this county has been in effect since before I moved here. The library tries to limit its censorship, but they get very little funding, especially considering the fact that property taxes (which are the main source of funding in the area) have been reduced state-wide to try to keep people in Florida. It’s probably going to speed up the plummet toward a recession, despite its intentions of trying to prolong one for as long as possible. There’s a lot of ridiculous things going on within the governmental system right now that not having Ingersoll’s works in the Osceola County system seems trivial by

I don’t know exactly how heavily populated the different counties are in California, but I’m sure there isn’t as much of a population difference between one county and the next as there is in Florida. We’ve got areas with heavy population (Broward, Miami-Dade, Orange, and Palm Beach Counties are definitely heavily populated) and then areas that were traditionally agricultural and are either still extremely sparsely populated or are just now developing as a result of the development and expansion of a nearby county. Osceola County is growing because Orange County is expanding so rapidly, but a lot of the areas that are developed now were plots of farm land five years ago, and the policies and funding from the county government hasn’t changed enough to reflect that there is a growing need for library services in all areas. I have a lot better selection through Osceola County than I did when I lived in Leon County, but at the same time, I was able to do some serious research in Broward County because the system was big and well-developed by the time I was five. It’s going to be quite a while before Orange and Osceola counties catch up to where Broward is in breadth and depth of collections, as they just haven’t been around as serious library systems for as long.

OH, hey! Thanks for starting this thread! I have a $10 gift card to a local wymmyn-and-chyldryn type book store that I haven’t known what to do with. What an excellent time to pick up And Tango Makes Three for my two year old! Hmmm…what subversive missive can I pick up for my 14 year old fantasy loving son at the same time?

who does not deal well with “authority”

I support the concept, though a more productive endeavor might be “Kill The Carping Psychochristian Parents Who Complain To Libraries About Books Which Are Contrary To Their Incredibly Narrow-Minded Worldviews Week” or “Buy Some Fucking Testicles For The Administrators Who Cave To The Carping Psychochristian Parents Who Complain To Libraries About Books Which Are Contrary To Their Incredibly Narrow-Minded Worldviews Week”.

Or how about withdrawing donations to “Making Mountains out of Molehills week”? To repeat something I said two years ago:

And again, “challenged” != “banned”. So this is actually “challenged” books week… but I guess using the word “banned” is more likely to draw press coverage.

There are a lot of books out there that have been challenged that could probably suit your son’s needs. Has he ventured into the wonders of the dystopian reality novel? I personally enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale, but I am not so sure that a teenage boy would be too impressed by the overlying feminist message as a major draw to the book. 1984? We by Yevgeny Zamyatin?

JohnT, I think the original intention of this week is to draw attention to the fact that books have been banned in the past and are still banned in some areas for reasons that the ALA is not willing to support. There are fewer books being banned than “challenged” right now, but part of the reason why a lot of these challenges are losing in court has to do with the provisions within the challengers’ propositions being unconstitutional. There’s also the issue of a lot of libraries taking a stand and supporting the vast majority of people who are not bothered by the library offering a title that is offensive to a very small subset of people. There are enough libraries who are opposed to provisions withing the USA PATRIOT Act that they find ways to subvert any search of the library’s data that would serve as a search on an individual patron. It really is not within the ALA’s beliefs to censor a library user’s access to information, and it’s certainly not within their beliefs to share with the government what an individual library user’s book interests are, as interpretations of one’s information use can prove to be dangerously incorrect.
It’s not the greatest title for the week, but it gets attention and maybe somebody out there that sees a “banned books” display (after all, most banned books displays only show the ones that have been officially banned in the US) will think about the positive role of libraries as valid sources of information.

Ooh, I bet he’d be into 1984. He likes Ender’s Game a lot, and certain Asimov (The Positronic Man rewrite with Silverberg, in particular), so the futuristic scifi realm is in his sphere of interest. I am, I’m ashamed to admit, unfamiliar with We, but I just read the wikipedia on it and it seems to be up his alley as well. Thank you so much for the ideas!

No problem. I’m not as familiar with Sci-Fi/Fantasy stuff, but I liked 1984 and heard good things about We.


If you are in the Chicago area, this saturday ALA is doing a reading by authors/celebrities by the tribune tower: Christ Crutcher, Robie Harris, Carolyn Mackler, Peter Parnell and more will be reading. (I did the CTA ad campaign for this event, that yellow and black thing you see a pic of on top)

This sounds more like an exercise in liberal self-congratulation than anything else.

Every “banned” book is readily available via Amazon or Barnes and Noble, so get a grip.

Yep. And as much as the ALA pushes hard for freedom of thought and expression, they seem remarkably slow to condemn governments that really do ban books. Their lack of moral support for the free libraries in Cuba have been an ongoing source of considerable controversy.

For this bewildering stance, they have been taken to task by authors like Nat Hentoff and Andrei Codrescu.

I don’t want to turn this into a “political” thread, but the ALA is a very political group. That ship has sailed, frankly, and a discussion of the ALAs priorities ought to be fair game.

Can we move the thread?

I’d also like to point out that context is crucial.

Imagine, just imagine, there’s a public school in rural Mississippi where the school board has been dominated since time immemorial by fundamentalist Christians. There’s a mandatory Bible class, in which teachers emphasize that everything in the Bible is 100% literally true and that anyone who doesn’t accept this is bound for Hell.

Suppose a group of parents objects to this course. What would you think if a Christian organization accused these parents of trying to “ban” or “challenge” the Bible?

You’d think that was more than just a bit disingenuous, I’ll wager. Well, I strongly suspect that there’s a bit of disingenuousness involved when the ALA talks about “banned books.”

For example, I don’t consider “Huckleberry Finn” a racist book- but if a teacher wanted to make it mandatory reading for 4th graders, I’d understand perfectly why black parents would object, and I might well join them in objecting. I think 10 year olds are too young to grasp that Mark Twain used the N-word for historical authenticity but that it’s a word they should never use.

If I signed a petition to keep “Huckleberry Finn” out of 4th grade classrooms (though I’d support it being required reading in higher grades), would I then be a book burner? The ALA would undoubtedly say so, because it feeds their sense of righteousness and self-importance.

Count me in among those who are disappointed, although not surprised, by the ALA stance on Cuba.

I say not surprised because nothing surprises me when it comes to the rest of the world’s view of Cuba.