Saturday, October 2, 2010

Banned Books Week--book challenges

So, today marks the end of Banned Books Week. How did yours go? Read any banned books?

THIS PAGE shows a map of places books have been challenged. It also gives lists of banned or challenged books, and information on the rights of children to read.

What's up with all this "banned books" stuff, anyways? We we have the right to read what we want in this country, don't we?

Yes, we do! And it's a precious freedom that we need to be reminded of. Banned Books Week reminds us that just because a book's ideas aren't for us, that doesn't mean they shouldn't be read and discussed by others.

What's up with this list of challenged books? They were challenged--not necessarily banned.

Everyone has the right to challenge a book in a school district or library. Sometimes the book is not appropriate, content-wise for an age group. Even if your second grader could handle it, would you want her reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil? Probably not! She's just not ready, cognitively, developmentally, or emotionally for the content of the book, even if you enjoyed it yourself last summer.

Sometimes book challenges can be solved easily--moving it to a more appropriate collection, or part of the library, for instance. Some books are not appropriate for a certain collection. A library that specializes in history or gardening has less use for a book on portraits of modern Japanese punk rock bands than...say... a library or collection that specializes in modern or world cultures.

This is one of the major reasons the "challenge" process is in place in most schools and libraries--it gives librarians and administrators the opportunity to review the material in question (here's a sad fact--librarians don't always read every book we purchase for the library, and so, sometimes, we may mis-purchase, or mislabel a book). It gives them the opportunity to engage the person challenging the book, and the community, regarding the ideas in the book, and what the community and guiding committee for the library/school feel is appropriate for their collection. Librarians enjoy getting feedback about the collection, even if that sometimes takes negative form. They purchase things based on past trends, or what they think the patrons will like or need, and so hearing it directly from patrons is extremely helpful toward making your library the best it can be.

What about all those other books, where the challenge can't be resolved as easily? Sometimes, a member of the community feels that a book is not only inappropriate for their own children, or their own viewing, but it is also inappropriate for the whole community. These can be religious or politically-geared books, or books that deal with social concerns. A parent may be opposed to "And Tango Makes Three" or "Heather Has Two Mommies" because they feel it advocates a lifestyle that they do not wish their children to approve of. Another parent, however, may see those books as a great way to explain to their children why their family is different than other families, or to explain the family of a loved one or friend.

Or a concerned community member may feel that the content of books taught in schools may be too mature for students, or that the content promotes or advocates a religion or lifestyle that they do not approve of. Usually the book and the context of these concerns is reviewed and discussed--drug use happens in the book, but is it portrayed as a good, or bad thing? There is sex, or violence, but are consequences also presented? Sometimes, students need to learn about, and think about issues in the safe confines of a book, instead of practicing in the real world as they grow and become adults. Also, books are most often chosen for study in class have other literary worth, outside of being books about "issues," and so they may be kept for this reason as well.

Not everyone is always happy with the results of a book challenge. Someone who felt passionately that her 9th grade class was ready for a certain title may be upset if the book is moved from 9th grade to 12th grade English, or if it is removed from the curriculum all together. A parent or community member may be upset that a book that is so opposite of their own views is still on the shelves. It's not a perfect process, but it's one designed to be as fair as possible to librarians, teachers, community members, readers, and even authors to write what they feel is important, without being censored before or after publication.

Ultimately, parents are charged with deciding what is appropriate for their minor children, and have the right and responsibility to monitor and take an interest in what their children are reading/watching/consuming. Also, reading or watching things that contain ideas that we don't agree with provides an opportunity to discuss those ideas, and what our beliefs are with our children.

One of the many jobs of education, and one of the goals of the library system is to expose children and adults to new ideas for discussion and exploration, whether they fall in line with our own beliefs or not. To that end, schools and libraries attempt to make a variety of materials available for students and patrons.

This is why we celebrate Banned Books Week, so that we have an opportunity to discuss ideas about what is appropriate in various settings and how to handle the challenges faced by libraries, community members and schools. It also gives us an opportunity to go back and read some of the most-challenged books, and discuss their content.

It's also a reminder that a society that can't read freely and exchange ideas freely is not a free society at all. We have to remain vigilant so that not only are our own rights observed, but the rights of others, even though we may disagree with them.

More information about banned books:
ALA's Banned Books Week press release
Banned Books Week website
Wikipedia's list of books banned around the world

In CARL's collection:
Book Banning by Ronald Lankford
Censorship: Opposing Viewpoints by Terry O'Neill
First Freedom: Liberty and Justice in the World of Books and Reading by Robert Bingham Downs

Want to know more? Talk to a librarian!

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