I do! I really do!
In a week the 29th annual Banned Books Week will begin. I've been watching Banned Books Week for most of that time, beginning as a recent college graduate working for the the American Library Association (ALA) and continuing to this day as a librarian in New Orleans.
Librarians are NOT for banning books! Every year I get to explain this to people when I'm putting up my annual Banned Books Week exhibit at the Library.
The unofficial "Bible" of BBW.
Banned Books Week 2010 has a FaceBook page--so naturally a poster asked "when did librarians get to ban books? That's not nice." Well, if they'd read any of the other posts, they might have gotten a clue.
While Banned Books Week has several Associations as co-sponsors, a lot of the heavy lifting has been done at the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom. The ALA updates the Manual for Banned Books Week every three years.
I'm not sure that Banned Books Week should be considered to belong to libraries, booksellers, or publishers. I wish there was an American Association of Book Readers. Readers justify the existence of Banned Books Week when we buy the books, check them out from the library, praise them on BookThing, give them to our kids, assign them to our students, put them on Summer Reading lists.
Banned Books Week challenged books are ALMOST always about children's books or Young Adult/Teen books. It's about the minds and futures of our youngsters.
Stylish & Informative
There are those who would protect them from Harry Potter, lest they grow up to be witches.
There are those who would protect them from any sex education book you can think of, from Where Willy Went to It's So Amazing! to Are you there, God? It's me, Margaret. Because kids who know the facts are subject to sharing the facts with other kids and where are we going to get our low wage workers from if everyone can plan their families?
There are those who would protect children from blasphemy, including the word damn in My Friend, Flicka.
Others would keep children from learning that a vast majority of Americans used the word nigger regularly in our shared history--therefore wanting to remove the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The whole moral point of the novel is that Huck decides to help his friend Nigger Jim escape to freedom. Earlier generations objected to Mark Twain's radical agenda--perhaps they were better readers.
Let's protect kids from having heroes who can think.
BBW 2010 poster
Sometimes the objections are so outlandish, it's cute. An illustrated Little Red Riding Hood was challenged because the basket Little Red was carrying had a suspiciously "wine-bottle" shaped bottle neck poking out of it--therefore encouraging alcoholism among the kindergarteners.
While I may appear to take a light-hearted view of book challenges, I consider it very serious to be a children's librarian who has to justify a book to a community which can suddenly appear to be entirely composed of bible-thumping taxpayers with direct lines to the city council.
I feel a great sympathy for school librarians, who are often working in relative isolation in their schools. Librarians dealing with a challenge to a book can call several places for help: their state library association, the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom,and the ACLU. But it still takes guts to stand up against the well-meaning citizens of your town.When higher-ups have adopted written policies that allow challenges to be taken in, evaluated, and responded to in an orderly fashion, the community is well-served.
Nazi book burning
The stand that most librarians find acceptable is to leave decisions up to parents. Parents are the best equipped to decide what books their children are able to "handle." Librarians will do their best to provide a wide array of worthwhile materials--not simply censoring the entire world of books.
In the old days a lot of libraries had "children's room" and "children's cards" and didn't allow children to even browse the adult collections. It's rare nowadays. Naturally, there are stories of librarians helping avid little readers access adult books just as there are stories of white librarians helping little children of color access Jim Crow public library books. (Sentimental stories--and probably exceptionally rare.)
There are long lists of challenged books on the ALA web-site or available from your local library. Read one. Checking it out of your local library is especially sweet because you will help the library show that the book has currency and demand. You might even start an interesting conversation with your own librarian.
Dedicated to the memory of Judy Krug
Judy Krug, the Director of the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom until her death in 2009 from cancer. A genuine heroine whose energy, humor, and willingness will never be forgotten.