Two days ago marked the beginning of Banned Books Week which is, according to the American Library Association, “an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.” BBW is held during the last week of September and highlights the importance of free and open access to information while spotlighting attempts to ban or censor material across the United States.
It’s so appropriate that BBW would be celebrated at this time in my life ~ I’m teaching a course called American National Government and we just finished discussing the rights guaranteed to us by the Constitution with a specific focus on the First Amendment. For those of you who don’t know, the First Amendment is part of the Bill of Rights and it protects the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression from government interference. Many people don’t realize that each year people challenge books in libraries for a variety of reasons and it is due to the commitment and vigilant efforts of librarians, teachers, parents and other concerned citizens that many books are kept on library shelves.
So what does it mean for a book to get “challenged”? It means that someone in the community (a parent, a school board member, etc) considers something within the book to be objectionable and they want it removed from the school’s curriculum or from the library collection. The motivation behind a challenge is often good, the individual simply wants to protect the community (specifically children) from difficult ideas, “inappropriate” sexual material or “offensive” content.
While on the surface, this may seem like a great idea ~ no one wants to see children reading material that may be too sexually advanced for them, nor do we all agree with the ideas of promoters of racist ideology, but no one group has the right to demand that material be removed from public consumption. One of the greatest advantages (and challenges) of living in this country is our right to freely express opinions, thoughts and ideas that may not appeal to everyone.
The American Library Association encourages people to celebrate Banned Books Week by reading a challenged book. For a list of the top ten most frequently challenged books of 2009, click here.
Do you agree with censorship? How do you handle material that you find objectionable? Did you read the list of challenged books? Do you agree or disagree with the reasons they were challenged?