Friday, September 27, 2013

Freedom to Read

"A word to the unwise.
Torch every book.
Char every page.
Burn every word to ash.
Ideas are incombustible.
And therein lies your real fear."
       - excerpt from Ellen Hopkin's, "Manifesto."
Poster by the Montana Library Association and the ACLU of Montana.  Click to enlarge the photo and read more about books that have been challenged in Montana.  
Banned Books Week is an annual event held the last week of September to celebrate the right of every single person to read materials of their choice--even if that material is unorthodox or unpopular.   As a librarian and firm believer in the freedom of speech this celebration is very dear to me.  I look forward to it every year.

From the American Library Association (ALA) website:
"A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. 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."

Despite 1st Amendment protection of free speech books continue to be banned or challenged because an individual or group object to the book's depiction of sex, language, religious stance, or political viewpoint.  The ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom complies a list every year from news reports and reports submitted to them directly on book challenges throughout the United States.  In addition to the hundreds and hundreds of challenges and attempts to ban materials that are recorded by the ALA each year there are an estimated four to five attempts to censor that go unreported to the ALA for each one that is reported.

So many of my favorite books have been banned or challenged!  Great classics of literature have been!!   These include, but are certainly not limited to: The Call of the Wild, Of Mice and Men, The Catcher in the Rye, The Grapes of Wrath, Slaughterhouse-Five, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Lord of the Flies, The Outsiders, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Jungle, Animal Farm, The Lord of the Rings, and The Big Sky.

Heck, even Where's Waldo has been censored!!  (And Matt's parent's still own the "scandalous" edition which the boys read as youths.)

Most contemporary attempts to remove access to materials involve young people and school libraries.   Parents are the most common group of challengers.  Naturally, people are concerned about what they're children are reading.  I more than wholeheartedly respect that.  Parents should!  But, just because a book isn't right for the Jones family doesn't mean it isn't vital for some other family.  We're all different.  We've got different upbringings, religions, races, ethnicity, values, etc.   Every book has its reader.  We're all going through different things and thus, need different reading materials as we go along our path.

At the present time our local school district is undergoing a challenge to Fools Crow by James Welch,  a book I read in school.  Welch is a member of two tribes and grew up and attended schools on the Blackfoot and Fort Belknap reservations. Fools Crow is a depiction of Blackfoot Indian life just after the Civil War.  As such is contains violence and illustrates the conflicts and struggles faced by the American Indians and the changes brought by the incoming Caucasian population.  Because the main character is a boy on the verge of manhood it also contains some passages of a sexual nature.  The book is part of classroom curriculum, but there are always alternate books if students or their parents object to the primary recommended reading.  However, that was not enough for one set of parents.  Instead they want the book completely removed from class and thus, from every other student in that class.  That seems so sad to me.  The challenge is on its second appeal.  I hope the school board remembers that one person, one family, should not have the right to dictate the freedoms and access to information for everyone else.  That is bordering on fascism, if you ask me.  Its a very slippery slope.

I've got no problem with people saying, "Fools Crow is a piece of trash and I am not going to let MY child read it!"  (Even though I do disagree with their assessment of the book.)  I have a big, big problem with people saying, "Fools Crow is a piece of trash I will not rest until every copy is removed from this school district."   That is wrong.
This is America!  And Banned Book Week is, to me, a fantastic expression of our fundamental rights to freedom of speech and expression.  It is just one more thing that makes me proud to be an American.  (And a librarian, too.)

Some related and interesting links:
Reported Challenges in Montana
Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books 2000-2009, 1990-1999
Top 10 Banned/Challenged Books 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001
Banned/Challenged Classic Literature
30 Years of Liberating Literature Timeline
The Library Bill of Rights

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