Celebrate the Freedom to Read

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” Ray Bradbury


This week is banned books week in the US, and it is all the more pertinent to me since I live in a society where books are frequently banned, movies are censored, protests are squashed, news is propaganda and the Internet is filtered. And if my blog wasn’t blocked before, it probably is now.

Reading over ALA’s (American Library Association – America’s top freedom fighters. Librarians aren’t all grannies in glasses!) banned books website, I am not a bit surprised to see that, once again, we are worried about our kids reading the classics and getting ideas. Scary! To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – perennial guests on the banned books list.

I headed over to google to see what websites are saying about banned books week. Of course, how many pages was I actually able to load? Thanks Great Firewall. Time to turn on the TOR. Actually, I’ve noticed that lately, I am surfing with it on almost all the time. Slows things down a little, but it is good practice with being patient. All good things come in time.

Funny that the website I was able to open without the proxy was a “pro-family”, ultra-conservative, conspiracy theory website condemning the ALA as an organization that wants to turn America’s youth gay. Not sure how that one made it past the GFW! The ironic thing is that librarians are taught – at least at my school – to be so pro-freedom to read, that they would never deny anyone the right to read that website, even as they bad mouth the profession. A library is a place for everyone, and all views should be evenly represented. Not that this happens in all libraries, but it is what librarians should strive for and what the ALA recommends. Another thing the ALA recommends is that parents take responsibility for what their children read, not the librarians.

The very idea of freedom to read and freedom to access information involve no value judgment on what people choose, however, librarians are human too and some cannot separate their own personal values and beliefs from the professional. And that is truly a shame. I’m not afraid to say that maybe they shouldn’t be librarians.

“Banned Books Week is about upholding a fundamental American value,” says Gorman. [Michael Gorman is a former ALA president.] “We don’t believe in suppressing other peoples’ right to read. I’m a university librarian in a large-ish institution, so it’s very easy for me. The whole institution believes in access of information and freedom of inquiry. People working in a small rural library, where the most challenges are issued, can be very isolated. And we tend to want them to do the whole Gregory Peck act and stand up and defy their challengers. The dilemma is a lot more complicated. Banned Books Week says to those rural librarians, ‘You’re not alone.’ ”

Garden [Nancy Garden, banned author] sympathizes with the librarians facing those challenges, too, and considers a book challenge a good time to talk. “Librarians have to listen to the objections that people have to books,” says Garden. “But I think it’s important to say things like, ‘Well, look, we can’t remove this stuff, but if you want to tell us materials that you would like us to put in the library, which represent your viewpoint, we can put those in, too.’ ”

Conversation is often a good starting point for Ball [Miranda Ball, a library director in rural Alabama], who has intervened when kids check out books she thinks are too advanced for them—when a ten-year-old came to her with Stephen King’s Carrie, Ball explained to her that the book might be too advanced. “So then she wanted to read Anne Rice, and I said ‘I don’t think you want to read that either, honey,’ ” says Ball. “But I told her, ‘If you want to get it out, then go ahead.’ ”

“I am a conservative Christian, and I have a two-year-old daughter, and there are things I won’t want her reading. But I don’t want anyone else telling me what she can read,” says Ball. “And I’m sure not going to tell other people what they can read.”

The Book Standard – September 2005

The top banned books of the 21st century?
1. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
2. “The Chocolate War” by Robert Cormier
3. Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
4. “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck
5. “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou
6. “Fallen Angels” by Walter Dean Myers
7. “It’s Perfectly Normal” by Robie Harris
8. Scary Stories series by Alvin Schwartz
9. Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey
10. “Forever” by Judy Blume

What can you do to observe banned books week?

For further reading:
Amnesty International remembers the authors persecuted for sharing information. (Not available in China without a proxy.)
The Forbidden Library
Top 100 Banned Books – 1990 to 2000

“Censorship, like charity, should begin at home; but unlike charity, it should end there.”  — Clare Booth Luce


2 Responses to “Celebrate the Freedom to Read”

  1. safelibraries Says:

    Banned Books Week or NATIONAL HOGWASH WEEK?

  2. global gal Says:

    Do I think you’re crazy? Yes, I do. But I’ll leave your web address here just to prove my point – you’re free to read, even nonsense like “Safe Libraries”! To each his own.

    Not that you’ll read this, since you just stopped by to spam and run.

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