Sunday, September 28, 2008

Banned Books Week Is Upon Us!

If you are headed to the Des Plaines Public Library this week, make sure to stop by the 3rd floor and check out the Books on Fire display celebrating Banned Books Week. As you may or may not know, Banned Books Week (September 27-October 4) is a celebration of the freedom of choice, and, more specifically, the freedom to read. It is a moment for people to remember that even though some books may be challenged for containing inappropriate material or having an alternative viewpoint, intellectual freedom is a basic right afforded to every American citizen.

Banned Books Week this year has come at an interesting time for me, as the two books I happen to be reading right now have connections to Banned Books Week. The first one is Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, a history of the westward expansion of the United States from a Native American viewpoint. Written using the actual words of various Native Americans whenever possible, it is a scathing account of the greed and prejudice of the United States government as it both made and flagrantly broke treaties with the various Indian tribes whenever it suited them. This book was removed from a school in Wild Rose, WI in the 1974 by a school administrator who condemned the book for being “slanted” and “un-American”. This particular instance was an example of the uproar that this book caused as it contained a viewpoint contrary to the popularized “history” of the American West.

The other book I’m currently reading is the Tommyknockers by Stephen King. It is about an evil that is being slowly unearthed in a central Maine forest, affecting the townspeople of Haven and bringing out village secrets that have long been hidden. In 2004, this particular novel was considered for removal (among other horror novels) from the Questa school library in Taos, NM, but the school board ultimately allowed it to remain in circulation. While it is not a tough stretch to imagine why a Stephen King novel may be considered objectionable material in some circles (Tommyknockers is no different, let me tell you), to remove it completely from consideration to any reader is infringing upon their intellectual freedom.

Chances are that someone, somewhere may have disagreed with the material that you are currently reading, but, as Ben Franklin said, “"If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed." No matter what you are reading, be happy not only that you can read it, but that you were able to choose to read it. Now, go, be Intellectually Free!

(photo by Simen Svale Skogsrud)


Bob said...

After patrons are finished looking at the excellent display of banned books on the third floor, they may also visit the fourth floor to see a small collection of banned adult nonfiction books. The accompanying poster includes a quotation that I believe succinctly (and scathingly) summarizes the lyricist's views on censorship -- comparing it to a "witch hunt." Check it out!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for providing a link to the American Library Association's Banned Books site. It's fascinating to see some of the titles that have been banned over the years, like Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck and the Bible.

Anonymous said...

I was interested to see that a kid's picture book based on actual penguins at a New York zoo - And Tango Makes Three - was the most challenged book of 2007. Here's the article: http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA6440187.html

Veronica said...

It's true, some of the most frequently challenged are children's books. Check out the display on the second floor (which includes And Tango Makes Three) to view other often challenged books for children.

cathy said...

I recently attended the Illinois Library Association meeting and heard James LaRue speak about intellectual freedom. He's the director of the Douglas County libraries in Colorado and he has had much experience with book challenges. His talk was engaging and educational. He inspired library professionals to spend the time and effort to listen to challenges, and to hear out the concerns. In most cases, an outcome can be achieved that suits the needs of the individual and the community at large. His book, The New Inquisition is being acquired for the library.

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