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 http://book-censorship.suite101.com/article.cfm/banned_books_week
Poythress, Katherine. (2009, September 28). Library takes covers off banned books. TheGadsden Times. Retrieved from http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/article/20090928/NEWS02/909280303/1009/rss04