It's that time of year once again. The American Library Association (ALA) sponsors Banned Books Week annually the last week of September. This year the celebration is September 29 to October 6. Since its inception in 1982, Banned Books Week has reminded us that "while not every book is right for every reader, each of us has the right to decide for ourselves what to read, listen to or view."
I have been involved with setting up displays and planning events for Banned Books Week for the last several years. During this time, I have not had a single complaint regarding the appropriateness of the books on display. The comment that I hear most often is something along the lines of "Why are you banning those books?" After thinking about it, it does sound like we are advocating banning books. Librarians and booksellers take it for granted that everyone knows that we're in favor of free access to information. However, that's not the case, at all. People don't always know where we stand because we fail to tell them. Of course, I can't speak for all librarians. This is how I see the matter.
For clarification, challenges are an attempt to remove material from public use, thereby restricting access for everyone. The last word is the key. Who gets to decide for me what I read? Think about it. Who gets to decide for you what you read? We take this right for granted, but we can't really afford to do that. Civil liberties are eroded a little at a time so that it isn't really noticeable. Then one day, it's too late to do anything about it. So, you don't think things like that happen anymore? What would the people in Afghanistan say? How about Cuba? O.K., I can hear what you're thinking. Not in the United States, right? Wrong! It happens all the time. It is usually on a small scale, but it happens.
While a challenge is an attempt to remove a book from access, a ban is when that attempt is successful, and a book is removed from the shelves. Censorship denies our freedom as individuals to choose and think for ourselves. For children, decisions about what books to read should be made by the people who know them best -- parents. However, parents should only have the right to choose for their own children. They shouldn't be allowed to make decisions that affect everyone's children.
American libraries are the cornerstones of democracy. Libraries are for everyone, everywhere. Because libraries provide free access to a world of information, they bring opportunity to all people. We can't allow any individual or group to choose for a whole community what is or isn't appropriate. There are too many different cultures, values, and ways of life to pretend that this is possible. Now, more than ever, celebrate the freedom to read @ your library! Elect to read an old favorite or a new banned or challenged book. Come by the library on Thursday, September 27th to view a display featuring books that have been frequently challenged or banned, pick up free bookmarks and enter a drawing.