Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Please sir, don’t ban my books!

So this week that we call “Banned Books Week” happens once a year in September. During this time we celebrate our right to read. And since I have the stage for a wee bit, I’m going to talk about banned books and why we, as a library, as individuals, as a collective refuse to ban books, even if their content is grisly and hard to stomach.

Why do people ban books? Great question! I cannot assume to know everyone’s motivation, but there are some overarching themes.
-People don’t want a book with “questionable” material to end up in the wrong hands (unsuited to the age group).
-They are morally offended by the content.
-They do not see the value.
-Swearing, violence, sexual content; often referred to as “adult content”.
There’s this great quotation from Oscar Wilde that says, “The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame.” What a brilliant quote. We cannot fear our own shadow. We live in a crazy crazy crazy world and barring ourselves off from the injustice in society does not help us. By taking away material from children, like The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, because the content is hard to handle and it is felt that children should not be exposed to it is not a good excuse. As much as we’d love to tell our children that there aren’t really monsters, there are. Wouldn’t we rather have them experience monsters in books first? Books that we can read with them, talk about with them, explain content to…with them? This is the way we prepare our children and ourselves for what may be encountered, to the frights that could happen, that have happened in the world we inhabit.

Now of course there are exceptions to banning material. Of course we don’t want bodice-buster romances in an elementary school library! There are materials that may be too mature for some age groups, and we recognize that, but just because one parent objects to a book, does not mean that parent should dictate what other people’s children are allowed to read.

“But Kristin,” you say, “just because a book isn’t in a school/public library doesn’t mean it can’t be accessed elsewhere.”

There is truth to that, unknown person that I just made up to ask questions and make statements as though you were an outside objector. Here in Ohio, we are lucky to have a stupendous library system where libraries throughout the state share materials through inter library loan systems like SearchOhio and OhioLink, but this does not take place in other states as readily as it does here. Perhaps the only library a child or adult has access to is the one in their hometown or at school. Sure there are Amazon and book stores as well, but some people don’t have the luxury to purchase books.

The library is, in my humble opinion, one of the last truly democratic institutions we have. Everyone is welcome into a library no matter their age, sex, racial background, or beliefs. Anyone can peruse the multitude of materials available at their fingertips in order to better themselves, further their interests, or for their entertainment. Just because one voice is louder than the others does not mean that should be the only voice heard. For one person who objects to a material, there are several other people who will not be heard: people who may have strong connections with the material being banned, who find a voice louder than their own in the book, who discover a little piece of themselves, who find someone to connect with. This is why we believe in people’s right to read, in their right to make choices for themselves. This is why we don’t ban books. Some may object, but our libraries will own material that offends, that is difficult to read, that has questionable content. Because at the end of the day, we feel everyone has the right to choose what book brings them solace, understanding, a cause, confidence, or just plain old entertainment.

~Kristin M.

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