Banned Books Week 2015 (September 27–October 3) is sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) to “promote awareness of challenges to library materials and celebrate freedom of speech.”
ALA promotes your freedom to choose any material to read as well as the freedom for authors to express their opinions even if that opinion might be considered unpopular.
Libraries and schools around the country face attempts to remove or restrict materials, based on the objections of a group or sometimes a single person; this attempt to restrict is considered a challenge. Materials that are removed from reading lists and bookshelves are considered banned.
“Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others. As such, they are a threat to freedom of speech and choice.” (ALA website)
Books have been subject to censorship for centuries, and the Lilly Library has many books that were considered sensational, scandalous, or vulgar at some point in history.
One such controversial book is The Fruits of Philosophy, or the Private Companion of Young Married People by Charles Knowlton. It is a miniature book published in 1832 about birth control. The text contained a summary of what was then known on conception, listed a number of methods to treat infertility and impotence, and explained birth control in plain language and without moral judgements. The monograph was printed small–81 millimeters to be exact–so that it could easily be hidden by the patients to whom Dr. Knowlton gave it.
Knowlton was prosecuted, fined, and later (after a second edition was more widely circulated) imprisoned for three months hard labor for publishing the book. In the UK, social reformers Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant were also prosecuted for publishing and distributing the book. The publicity from these trials only increased the popularity of the little volume, and it is credited by scholars for popularizing contraception in Great Britain and America.
The Lilly Library’s copy of The Fruits of Philosophy comes from the library of miniature book collector Ruth Adomeit, whose over 16,000 tiny volumes are now housed among the Lilly Library’s collections. The case in which she stored it is wrapped with baby-themed wrapping paper—a somewhat cheeky housing for a book that once sent men and women to prison.
Modern books are still being challenged. The Lilly Library has copies of these controversial titles–and many more:
- Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
- Considered “anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic and just plain filthy.”
- Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
- “Lord” and “Oh Lord” used as expletive
- To Kill a Mockingbrid by Harper Lee
- Portrays racial inequality, rape, has objectionable language
- Adventures of Huckelberry Finn by Mark Twain
- Racially offensive, uses “coarse” vernacular language
- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
- Portrays alcohol/cigarettes, has sexual content, uses vulgar language
- Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
- Portrays magic and witchcraft
For more information about Banned Books Week visit www.ala.org/bbooks/.
Graduate Student in Library Science; Lilly Library Public Services Intern