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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Just say book banning

From the American Library Association's Web site:

"Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States."

You'd be hard-pressed to find a librarian who thinks that banning books is a good idea. Yes, we understand that some books aren't appropriate for certain age groups. Yes, we understand that some books foster rather unpopular, even blatantly offensive ways of thinking and behaving. But there's a difference between banning a book outright and giving individuals or families the right to choose what they will read.

I assure you that I could walk up to the 3rd and 4th floors of the Library right now and find an armful of books that deeply offend me. Since this isn't the "Karen McBride Public Library," but rather the Des Plaines Public Library, there ought to be materials here that aren't my cup of tea. Materials that tear apart my belief system, my religion, my artistic tastes, the food I eat, the candidates I support, my deepest values. If our values are so weak that they cannot stand up to someone else's verbal attacks and criticism, they're not very good values, are they? Reading the opinions of others, or at least knowing where they stand, is a very good exercise in knowing where you stand. Be proud to live in America, because in other parts of the world you couldn't read this blog. In fact, I couldn't publish it. Sadly, this country seems to be full of people shouting right now, big-voiced bullies eager to make sure you hear them and nothing else. In the quiet confines of the public library, you can escape the bully and hear what others have to say, as well as finding plenty of support for your own arguments.

This year, Banned Books Week begins on September 26. I asked my colleagues at DPPL to share some thoughts about favorite books and how their lives would be changed if these books had been banned.

Linda Knorr, Readers' Services: "...definitely the Harry Potter series. Although I’m considerably older than the target reading population, if I had not had the freedom to read those wonderful stories of wizards and witches, I would have missed out on loads of fun and hours of reading pleasure."

Bob Blanchard, Adult Services: "'Forever' by Judy Blume. I read this for a children's literature class, and it exposed me to young adult (or high school) fiction. I didn't know that some of those books can be pretty explicit! Still, I'm glad I read it, because it showed a side that many teen girls face or may face when they explore their sexuality."

Holly Richards-Sorensen, Assistant Director: "'A Wrinkle in Time' by Madeleine L’Engle. I read this book when I was in 4th or 5th grade and it started my love of Science Fiction. After I read this I moved on to read Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Philip K Dick, Isaac Asimov, you get the idea."

Gwen LaCosse, Adult Services: "'Catcher in the Rye.' Through Holden Caulfield, his main character, J.D. Salinger gives voice to those in our culture who feel they are on the outside looking in. Even though I read it many years ago in high school, I consider this book to be timeless. It should never be banned."

My choice would be The Bible. Too many people talk about it - whether to condemn or to defend - without ever reading it or knowing what it really says. I'm delighted to have the freedom to explore The Bible and make up my own mind about its message.

Delight in your freedom - defend the right to read.
Learn more about Banned Books Week.


  1. The Wall Street Journal had a recent editorial about Banned Books Week, implying that we should shut up about this issue, that it isn't such a big deal. They even included an unpleasant cartoon of a librarian yelling at the cowering public!

    Needless to say, I disagree. :-)

  2. For me, it is The Lord of the Flies by William Golding which I first read in eighth grade. Order vs. chaos, individuality vs. group mentality, good vs. evil. These were all "big" ideas that were explored in a fascinating way and have led me to reread it several times.


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