Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Intellectual Freedom LIS 6010 Fall 2009

Intellectual Freedom

Ever since words were written on paper, some have tried (and sometimes succeeded) to prohibit and censor what others could read. If a literary work is thought to be inappropriate by a person or group, a complaint can be filed against the library, school, or bookstore through the ALA. The ALA reported 518 challenges to books in 2008 in the U.S. The most commonly used reasons to challenge a literary work usually include sex, violence, religion, racial views, or profanity. Many times the books are challenged, but not actually banned.

The ALA maintains that each person has a right to intellectual freedom; the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular. In 1967, the ALA founded the Office for Intellectual Freedom. Their mission is to support intellectual freedom as described in the Library Bill of Rights, which includes challenging censorship and resisting abridgement of free expression and free access to ideas.

Banned Books Week

In response to an unusually high amount of challenged books in the early 1980’s, Banned Book Week was established. Sponsored by the ALA, along with other notable Library Associations, this annual event held during the last week of September celebrates the freedom to read. To promote intellectual freedom, Librarians celebrate Banned Books Week by setting up special displays of the challenged and banned books, or organize readings from them.

This year, Alabama’s Gadsden Public Library conducted a censorship awareness exercise by displaying 40 of the challenged or banned books wrapped in brown paper. The patrons can check out the books, but will not know what titles they are taking home, or why they were challenged. According to the library’s director, Amanda Jackson, “We’re trying to really push the envelope and make people see things in ways they normally wouldn’t see them.” “The idea is to give people no cover by which to judge these books.”
Challenged Books and Children
Some very popular challenged books in the U.S. include 1984 by George Orwell, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. While looking over the rest of the list, I noticed that many of the books were challenged or banned because some people did not feel they were age appropriate to the book’s target audience, (usually children).

Librarians are strong advocates for intellectual freedom and I feel that this freedom is precious, and should be celebrated, not restricted. Clearly some books are very controversial and may not be appropriate for younger age groups to read, however it is not the duty of the librarian to decide what books are appropriate for which age groups. This is a very controversial issue because what one may consider age appropriate for their child, another may not. How would one handle an angry parent?

American Library Association, Banned Books Weeks: Celebrating the Freedom to Read.
(2009). Retrieved from

Pitner, Suzanne. (2009, July 11). Banned Books Week, American Library Association
Celebrates the Freedom to Read. Retrieved from

Poythress, Katherine. (2009, September 28). Library takes covers off banned books. TheGadsden Times. Retrieved from


Trevor Zuidema said...

Good job. I'm just wondering, don't librarians already decide what's appropriate for children and what isn't when they segregate children's books and adult books?

kbankovich said...

The books are segregated in the library, however there are no age restrictions placed on the books that are available for check out. I talked with a public librarian about this last week, and she said that if a parent wants their children to check out only certain books, they should accompany the child to the library. They used to have a 17 years and older restricted section, but did away with it when the internet became popular.

Trevor Zuidema said...

Good to know. Thanks.

Adrianne said...

I love the idea of librarians celebrating banned books week. Even more so, it's interesting that they wrap it up and not let the people know why it's banned.

Jamie Baker said...

I like the idea of celebrating banned books with a book group. The list that the ALA provides on their website is a great resource to choose material, and the controversial issues would be great discussion points.

Nicole Lesperance said...

I really love the brown paper covering of books to get people to think outside of their own personal taboos and try something different. Ignorance is usually the biggest reason why people dislke something and by forcing people to at least try, it actually makes a difference! Great idea!

Tom Trupiano said...

A couple of things I liked in this post: The first was the distinction between challenged books and banned books. I like the idea of the ALA acting as a conduit between the person with a complaint regarding a book and library/school/bookstore. We should be careful with being too judgemental about challenges to books. This is, after all, simply another form of free speech and challenging a book (in a middle school library, for example) is not exactly a book-burning.

I also like the banned books activities listed here. Unfortunately, too many people are too quick to jump on a bandwagon based on second-hand information. How many people, for instance, called for a ban on Harry Potter without ever reading the books? Raising awareness/educating people can only help matters.