Banned Books Week. Why do libraries celebrate it every year? It’s about the freedom to read. Every American has the right to read what he or she wants to. In this day and age, censorship can run down a slippery slope. In other words, if one book is banned, why not another? And another? Soon, banning books and other forms of censorship would run amok in our society. The rights guaranteed to us under the 1st Amendment are part of what makes America great.
Many of you have most likely heard of some of the most frequently banned books in recent history: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Classics. But how many of you are familiar with locally banned or challenged books? A teen book was challenged in our local school system in recent years called Vegan Virgin Valentine by Carolyn Mackler. Some parents thought the language used was inappropriate. But just like public libraries, school libraries have a duty to make materials available to all, then allow parents to make individual decisions on what their children should read. Not make decisions for other parents for them.
The U.S. Supreme Court has cautioned that, “local school boards may not remove books from library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to ‘prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.’” Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853, 872 (1982).
The Jacksonville Public Library has had its share of customers challenging our books as well. During the review process after a book has been challenged, a question is asked “did you examine the entire work?”. In too many cases the challenger started reading a book that had a curse word on the first page, then stopped reading it. Or was skimming through a book and the “F” word jumped out at them.
Many times, if they had just read the whole book, they would be able to see past these words, and appreciate the value of the work as a whole. One time a teen book on pregnancy, disguised as a Children’s picture book, was challenged. The customer was right, it had been cataloged wrong. We moved it to the teen department.
In the end, it has been much less eventful for banning books in the public library compared to the school system simply because we do not ban books.
So, as we celebrate Banned Books this week, remember that the 1st Amendment, in all its importance, is still undergoing threats in our own America every day. Keep your rights healthy, exercise your freedom to read!