Banned Books Week is here again! 2012 marks the 30th anniversary of the Freedom to Read movement.
Why does it matter?
The US Constitution not only supports the right to free speech, it also promotes freedom of access to information. Organizations (especially libraries, whose primary mission it is to support lifelong learning and provide access to information) that seek to censor certain materials from their surrounding communities are not just withholding information, but are actively damaging the quality of information being provided. An informed population is a critically thinking population. Without the ability to read and think about all aspects of themes addressed in literature (themes which stem from real life), there is necessarily a decline in the critical analysis skills of a population.
In 2010, a school district in California withdrew Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary from their schools after a parent complained that their child had come across the term “oral sex.” Yes, the dictionary contains vulgar terms; it is meant to reflect the vocabulary used by the surrounding culture, a valuable reference resource. Removing an upper-reading-level dictionary from schools inhibits the expansion of the vocabulary of the students (not to mention working towards the utterly ridiculous goal of suppression of personal intellectual exploration).
Some of the most frequently banned books are children’s books, often banned for gay-positive content or ideas deemed too complex to be suitable for children. But as Margaret Mead said, “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” Limiting a child’s ability to explore their world and engage with new ideas is socially destructive. If someone does not learn to reason and in youth, they will not be a reasonable person in adulthood. A large population of adults that do not have critical thinking skills is a society that will not be successful or easy to live in–especially for minority groups.
The ALA keeps track of the most frequently banned books each decade, and also posts an annual list of banned and challenged books.
The stories behind banned and challenged books are not always negative, however. In 2005, St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Austin, Texas–a prestigious private school–retained their right to keep Annie Proulx’s novel Brokeback Mountain on their suggested optional reading list for senior-level English and in their library. Despite facing rage from the surrounding majority conservative community, and the withdrawal of approximately $3 million dollars in funding for a new building, the school board voted to keep the book on the reading list. This victory for intellectual freedom shows that even in the face of extreme pressure, school boards and other committees need not submit to censorship.
With most public libraries holding to some variation of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions’ (IFLA’s) guidelines on collection development, US libraries are privileged to provide access to banned and challenged books throughout the country.
What will you do with this privilege? Take the plunge into some of the best literature ever written: visit your local library and find a banned book to read.
If you’re in the Bloomington area, visit the GLBT Library to find new favorite! Just look for the , or browse our banned books display.