If you visit your local library on even a semi-regular basis, you’ve probably seen Banned Books Week being promoted this week. Displays of books ranging from Harry Potter to the Satanic Bible to the ACTUAL Bible and that dumb book about sex Madonna wrote in the 1990s that no one reads by choice anymore because there are much more racy things on the internet (or… so I’ve been told *whistles innocently*) Maybe you’ve even seen mocked-up “Wanted Posters” where people can pretend to pose for mug shots because they were “caught” reading a banned book. The idea is that you’re being OMG SOOPER EDGY by reading Judy Blume or Ellen Hopkins (really, those aren’t the edgy and rebellious books to read anymore. More like pretentious and preachy and boring. But not edgy.) And maybe you’ve been encouraged to jump on the anti-banning-books bandwagon, just so everyone else is aware that YOU are anti-censorship too! Because who likes to police and dictate what other people like to read? (That’s an exhausting prospect. Just about as exhausting as being offended about every tiny “microaggression” that liberals comes up with to be offended about)
Full Disclosure – I used to work as a librarian for a public library system. I have my Master of Library Science degree. I’ve heard every single anti-censorship argument and case under the sun (well, maybe not every case in the history of forever – but enough of them to have a pretty good idea). I love and appreciate the First Amendment and the freedom of speech and expression that allows me and everybody else to do and say and read what they want – whether I agree with them or not. Now, I may mock and poke holes in liberals’ opinions, but that doesn’t mean I want them to be forced to stop voicing those opinions (now, if I can convince them that they’re wrong and they choose to change those views, that’s something different). In fact, the more leftists’ opinions and views are discussed and out in the open, the quicker they fall apart. So, no – I don’t want ANYONE to be forced to stop talking or to shut up. If only for the comedic value that many of them provide.
That being said – I HATE the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week.
There’s this article over at Slate that I had to read more than a few times because – DUDE, someone actually GETS it! (which, coming from Slate, surprised the heck out of me). It’s called “Banned Books Week Is A Crock” and I couldn’t agree more. Wanna know why? Because books never ACTUALLY banned. Not in America, at least (in Communist China and North Korea and ISIS-controlled Middle Eastern areas – that’s probably a different story). I even understood this as a middle school student when I was first introduced to this concept. A school library may take a book off its shelves for any number of reason, ranging from parental complaints to the simple fact that there’s no more room to keep it and nobody’s reading it anyway. But in 2015 in the United States, if someone wants to read a book, there are TONS of options available for getting the book. Borrow it from a friend, borrow it from the local library, borrow it from a library in another town, go to the bookstore and spend an afternoon browsing the shelves, buy an eBook copy from Amazon or iTunes (digital books are surprisingly cheap these days).
In fact, the Slate article actually details how a book becomes categorized as “Banned” by the ALA –
But take a closer look, and there’s much less for freedom-loving readers to be concerned with. The modifier “banned or challenged” contains a lot of wiggle room, for one. A “challenge,” in the ALA’s definition, is a “formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.”
In other words, there’s a difference between a parent asking their child to be exempt from reading a book in class because of questionable content and demanding that the book be taken out of the school entirely. But in the ALA’s mind, they are one and the same. And if you’re that parent who is concerned over what your child is reading in school and you’re making the case to your child’s teacher, you are a terrible person who wants to drag America back to the Stone Age and suppress freedom of thought and ideas.
The Slate article goes on to discuss how common it is for books to actually be removed from shelves – and the ALA documents that out of the 27 times a book was challenged at a public library in the past year (which is not a high number to begin with), only four were actually taken out of circulation. And most of the challenges stemmed from parents voicing concerns over what was available to their children, which is completely understandable but not necessarily infringing on anyone’s right to read –
Far more common are cases in which citizens challenge books after their children encounter them in classrooms or school libraries. Most cases documented by the ALA concern fears about “adult” content: bad language; violence; and, over and over, sexual content. Some of the challenges have a certain quirky charm. In Miami, a book was removed from an elementary school library because “it did not depict an accurate portrayal of life in Cuba.” In Virginia, the first Sherlock Holmes book was taken off a sixth-grade required reading list because it casts Mormonism in a negative light. (To be fair, it really does!). And in Oregon, a book about forests was removed from an elementary school because it apparently denigrated loggers. These events merit attention, especially in cases where the books are ultimately removed—and there’s evidence that the small annual number of these instances is ticking upward. But the bigger story—a truer picture of the state of censorship in America—is that actual “bans” remain very, very rare.
Some, or even all, of these challenges may be misguided, silly, or narrow-minded. But even if you’re firmly opposed to “banning books”—and I am!—it’s hard to argue that parents should have no right to weigh in on what their children read at school. There’s an enormous difference between parents saying a book shouldn’t appear on their kid’s required reading list and a citizen demanding that adults should have no access to a book at a public library. And it should shock no one that in a country of 300 million people, there are a few hundred cases each year in which someone objects to a particular book’s availability, especially to children.
So – again, I’m saying this as a former librarian – don’t get all hot and bothered about any imminent threat to enact full-blown censorship because there isn’t one. No one is re-enacting Fahrenheit 451 and no one is being arrested for possessing material critical of any government authority (man, if that were the case, I’d be in BIG TIME trouble). If anything, be conscious of the liberal PC Police who want to shut people up for expressing opinions that THEY disagree with – but even that is a colossal failure and an endless source of comedy (because, again, the Internet).
Read what you like to read – whether it’s been banned/challenged or not. Which reminds me – I have a “To Be Read” pile that stretches almost to the moon and back (I exaggerate slightly – it only goes up to the lower atmosphere).