Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to read what one chooses and a reminder that censorship is bad. Overall I’m glad there is a week the literary world and the library world can shine in the news. This week gets far more press than library appreciation week in spring. But I feel the scope of what Banned Books week includes is too broad, specifically I feel book challenges in schools should be a separate issue.
First off, in grad school at Kent State I took a course on Intellectual Freedom and I became a fan of the history of federally banned books in the United States. In the 1930’s James Joyce’s Ulysses was the first to get the federal ban lifted, and it had to prove that it had literary merit. In 1959 Lady’s Chatterley’s lover by D.H. Lawrence had its 30-year ban lifted. In 1961 Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller had it’s 27 year ban lifted.
Those historic court cases paved the way for literary freedoms that we know today. By the mid 1960’s to present day there has been very little censorship on the government level for printed material. This new liberating mindset expanded into music and movie production. Along with the Civil Rights laws the freedom of press changes are one of the best things to come out of the 1960’s or perhaps all of the twentieth century. Society and culture would not be the same if the censorship laws never changed or were delayed a few decades. To me the fact that no books are outlawed now is enough to celebrate Banned Books Week.
For some reason though, there is more focus on school challenges during Banned Books Week. Let me put it this way. Not having certain books in public elementary, middle, or high schools is not denying books to that person. If a child’s parent allows, he or she still has access to the controversial book. Parental control laws are serious, and not changing. Parents can decide what to allow their kids to read or watch. In my mind the fact that once kids turn 18 they can read anything belittles the importance of school challenges.
Now I’ll back peddle to finish that public library challenges are important. Public libraries service all ages. I think anything traditionally published, and in library distribution centers can be in public library collections. In that intellectual freedom class I learned that if there is any interest in the community for a book or material, the public library should consider putting it in the collection. Since public libraries serve all ages I think the challenges are more important than the school challenges.
I’m trying to be a little contradictory to the library norm, but in general having a Banned Books Week is better than not having a Banned Book Week. The different focuses are all in the same spirit.