Thursday, September 24, 2009

Irritate a censor: Read a banned book!

The last week in September, the American Library Association (along with several other organizations representing authors, publishers, and book sellers) celebrates challenged and banned books.

You can find a calendar of public readings and other celebrations around Oregon marking the week here.

And you can take a moment to look over the highlights from last year's p3 salute to banned books.

According to the ALA,

Often challenges are motivated by a desire to protect children from “inappropriate” sexual content or “offensive” language. The following were the top three reasons cited for challenging materials as reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom:

1. the material was considered to be "sexually explicit"
2. the material contained "offensive language"
3. the materials was "unsuited to any age group"

Although this is a commendable motivation, Free Access to Libraries for Minors, an interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights (ALA's basic policy concerning access to information) states that, “Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that parents—and only parents—have the right and the responsibility to restrict the access of their children—and only their children—to library resources.” Censorship by librarians of constitutionally protected speech, whether for protection or for any other reason, violates the First Amendment.

Here's a a full list [PDF] of the books that were challenged in Oregon public libraries, school libraries, and bookstores in 2008-2009. By my quick count, the material in question was retained in 23 challenges, and in two of the remaining three cases some other resolution short of outright banning was reached (including this case, which received some national attention).

The grounds for challenge included the usual suspects, enumerated above, but also some oddities such as the allegedly unflattering depiction of timber workers (that challenge wasn't successful).

The one challenge to a book which led to its removal from an Oregon public library in 2008-2009 was Master Math : Basic Math and Prealgebra, which was successfully challenged on the rather surprising grounds that it was factually inaccurate.

Pop by your local library this week and pick up a free bright yellow button with "I Read Banned Books" in large, friendly letters,

And thank your librarians (but keep your voice down). Even if you aren't in the mood to read a banned book today, you could if you wanted, and they're the reason.

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