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Tag Archives: American Library Association

So, it finally happened. My rather irreverent take on some of the things that happen to me at work managed to catch the attention of someone at Booklist. This month’s issue featured an article on Twitter Reference, and it included one of my #librarylife tweets. You can check out the article here.

It’s almost the end of September, and another favorite time of year is here. This year, Banned Books Week runs from the 22nd to the 28th. For you uninitiated out there, Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to read. You see, some people in the world are so terrified of knowledge that they actively seek to hide information from other people. In some unfortunate cases, this results in people attempting to remove a book from public access. In response to this behavior, the American Library Association started Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of free and open access to information.

I’m not going to mince words. I fucking hate people who push for the banning of books. It is the one thing that gets me upset more than anything else. It is an act of supreme ignorance to ban a book. No one should be able to tell someone else that they can’t read something. Period. In fact, I’m rather stubborn about it. If you tell me that I shouldn’t read something, I’ll ask you why. If you tell me I CAN’T read something, I’m going to find a way to read it.

So, why do people ban books? Most challenges to books occur in schools. This frequently has to do with a book that a class has been assigned to read having some content in it that a parent or guardian of one of the readers finds offensive. Case in point: Judy Blume’s Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret is a frequently challenged title. This is usually more because it includes a description of a girl having her first period than because it is about said girl’s questioning of the existence of a deity. Yeah, that’s right, kids. Talking about the changes that EVERY HUMAN BEING goes through are apparently reason enough to stop someone from reading a book. HOW DARE YOU CHILDREN ATTEMPT TO LEARN WHAT YOUR BODY IS DOING!

But yeah, “sexually explicit” and “unsuited to age group” are the two biggest reasons cited when someone challenges a book’s presence in a library. That’s because both of these terms are open to a very loose interpretation. If a parent feels that their precious little snowflake of a child isn’t ready to read about something that everyone else in their class at school has been talking about, then BAN THAT BOOK. Guess what, folks? Mitch Hedberg said it best. “Every book is a children’s book if the kid can read!” Look, if you’re concerned about what your kid might learn from a book, talk to your kid about the topic. It’s called parenting. The librarians aren’t there to do it for you. They’re there to provide information to their patrons, not to keep them from accessing it.

Why should I care? Orwell left us this gem in 1984. The oppressive regime in control of England in the book uses several slogans, including  WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. It’s quite telling, and a bit terrifying, that 1984 has itself been challenged. We’re living in a world where our ability to access information is greater than ever. Thanks to the internet, we have an unbelievable amount of data that we can use every day, WHENEVER WE WANT. However, there are people who want to limit this sort of access to those things that they feel are appropriate for us to see. Sound familiar? People who want to ban books are proponents of ignorance. Fight them. Peacefully.

What can I do to help? Learn your library’s policy on reacting to book challenges. If someone says that they want to complain about a book, ask them if they’ve read it (Yes, this is a legitimate issue—most of the people I’ve met who complained to me about Harry Potter, for example, had NEVER ACTUALLY READ THE BOOK). Many complaints are based purely on hearsay. I like to think of this as the “Cycle of Stupidity.” Some day I’ll draw you a nifty illustration as an example of the cycle. For now, let it be known that only you have the power to stop stupid people. Fight the spread of ignorance. Embrace literacy. Read a banned book. Judy Blume has a great strategy for getting a kid to read. “The best thing to do is leave the books around the house and from time to time say, ‘I really don’t think you’re ready for that book.'”

Other people can stand where they like on the issue of reading freedom, but me? I’m with the banned.

This week is National Library Week, and so I would like to share a few of the things that have been going on at my library.

We’ve had a couple of very successful programs for our local teens. We hosted a Blind Date With a Book, where library books were wrapped in paper and labeled only with a small singles-ad-style blurb.

Happy Valentine's Day, book lovers.

Happy Valentine’s Day, book lovers.

Teens were encouraged to take home a book based solely on the paragraph attached. This sense of mystery allowed for them to be surprised by an author that they may not have encountered, or to unwittingly revisit an old favorite.

Up next was our Readbox display. I’m sure most of you are familiar with Redbox, the DVD and video game rental kiosks.

It's like a Redbox, only better.

It’s like a Redbox, only better.

And finally, some days it’s important to just have fun at the library. Nothing helps this like a subtle addition to our self-check station.

"Luke, this is where you scan your library card."

“Luke, this is where you scan your library card.”

If you’ve not visited your local library lately, you should. See what’s new. Libraries are evolving to meet your 21st century needs. Happy National Library Week.

This week marks the 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week, a week-long celebration of the right to read.

Throughout history, books have faced challenges and bans from people around the world. These challenges come from groups and individuals who have taken it upon themselves to determine what is “appropriate” for others to be reading based on tired dogma and personal opinion. In the words of Granville Hicks, “[a] censor is a man who knows more than he thinks you ought to.”

Some of the greatest pieces of literature ever written have been banned or challenged in schools, churches, and public libraries for various reasons. The Great Gatsby, for example (one of my favorite books), was challenged in 1987 by Charleston, South Carolina’s Baptist College because of “language and sexual references in the book.” Now I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure that this particular phrase could have been used to challenge the presence of the Holy Bible, considering the Old Testament features several chapters which single-handedly contain more explicit sexual references than anything written by F. Scott Fitzgerald. J.D. Salinger’s classic tale of teen rebellion, Catcher in the Rye, was banned for being “a filthy, filthy book.” That’s a bit of a vague excuse if you ask me, and makes me wonder if the people behind that challenge had actually read the entire book, as, in an amusing twist, the narrator believes a “catcher in the rye” to be one who safeguards the innocence of children. As recently as 2009 To Kill a Mockingbird has been challenged for use of the word “nigger” among other language that was dubbed as inappropriate. The list goes on and on, and increases in absurdity. The works of Tolkien, a staunch Catholic, burned in New Mexico in 2001 as “satanic.” Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying “[b]anned at Central High School in Louisville, KY (1994) temporarily because the book uses profanity and questions the existence of God.”

More recent works are facing challenges and bans as well. Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Captain Underpants have all been threatened with removal from library shelves. I’ve personally encountered people willing to ban materials on nothing more than hearsay. My mother, herself a Catholic, has encountered this at the bookstore she owns and operates.
Customer sees Harry Potter on the shelf: “I can’t believe you have that book in your store! It’s about devil worship and magic and terrible things!”
Mum: “Have you actually read the books?”
Customer: “Well, no, but I heard that they were bad.”
Mum: “Well, if you actually took the time to read the book, you’d learn that they’re about a little boy who overcomes terrible adversity and still manages to become a good person despite facing an evil enemy bent on the destruction of the world, and that there’s nothing harmful about the books.”
Customer: “Oh.”
It’s enough to drive a person insane. “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” -attributed to Stephen Hawking

My favorite response to any of these challenges is taken from Oscar Wilde, a man who knew quite a bit about dealing with people who were upset by things that he wrote and did. “The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame.” Humans have an unfortunate history of trying to hide our mistakes and our failures, from the child who attempts to disguise the fact that he wet the bed to avoid the anger of a parent to the government that covers up evidence that it had authorized criminal acts against its own people. It’s human nature, I suppose, but it shouldn’t stop us from learning from our own mistakes. If we hide away all of the bad things that people have done in the past, we can’t do that. You know what they say about learning from the past, and those who are unable to do so.

We need to get over this. If I may be rather earnest, it’s bullshit. Books are here, and they’re being read. If you stop someone from getting a copy at their local library, that might slow them down for a while, but the information, the ideas, are still out in the world. We can’t stop people from experiencing life. Sex and profanity and hate and love and violence are going to be there, whether someone read about it in a book or not. We’ve screwed things up before. Let’s not do that again. 

It’s Banned Books Week. I’m celebrating by reading as many banned or challenged titles as I can. I work in a public library and a bookstore, and I’m providing the people with free ideas and ideas of freedom. “[a]nd ideas are bulletproof.” -V (This V, not that V