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There is an op-ed piece up in the WSJ on Banned Books Week which argues that no book is banned as long as it is available somewhere and censorship does not exist unless it is the work of the government. Here is a bit:

The problem of loose language aside, we can still ask whether books are banned in this country. The obvious answer is no, if banned means something like "made dangerous or difficult for the average person to obtain." Many books that have drawn critics' attention have been best sellers (the Harry Potter books and Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy), classics ("The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "To Kill a Mockingbird"), or the work of acclaimed authors (Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood). If a book isn't available at one library or bookstore, it's certainly available at another.

In my current hometown there is one public library; the next is several miles (along country roads with no public transportation available) away. In Fairbanks there is one public library in town, the next would be out in North Pole, AK over ten miles away (and again - no public transport). In the town I grew up in the library was miles from my own home - and the other was across town (I didn't visit it until high school when I was driving). My point is that often the school library is the only option kids have. To get to a town library (if your town even has one) usually involves parents and cars and time which are not options in a lot of homes. And the notion that you can just buy the book at a bookstore? Clearly the writer of this piece has never seen books as the luxury purchase they are for many. And again, you likely need parents involved for that - and they might weigh in on whether books are an acceptable use of cash at all.

In other words, removing a book from the shelf in a school library is a big deal and if you don't see that then your head is buried so deep in the sand that you might as well be looking for the center of the earth (or digging for China).

But wait - there's more:

There's something odd about a national organization with a $54 million budget and 67,000 members reacting so zealously against a few unorganized, law-abiding parents whose efforts, by any sensible standard, are hopelessly ineffective. The ALA's members have immeasurably more power than the "censors" they denounce to decide what books are available in our communities, but this power is so familiar it's invisible. Why do parents' public petitions constitute censorship, while librarians' hidden verdicts do not? A spokesman for the ALA once tackled this question in the Boston Globe: "The selection criteria that librarians use may not always be what everybody wants. I don't see that it's a real problem." Move along, folks, nothing to see here.

Librarians are trusted to purchase the books, and shelve them and make them available because, frankly, when it comes to intellectual freedom parents are not always right. Parents are biased and racist and discriminatory in a thousand different ways. They are, in all the good and bad respects, completely human. And their children, if left to receive only their parents' opinions, will likely turn out the very same way. I know this because I've seen it, I've sat down at tables and broken bread with it, I've issued ultimatums about it ("do not use those words when my child is in this house") and I have argued and argued and argued against it. Librarians take the children of these homes and they say "there is another world out there and you can find it here". They give children options that often their parents (for all their love and devotion) do not.

And if you are a kid in any kind of crisis, who can not turn to home for help, then that larger book-filled world might be the only place you have, it might very well change your life and possibly even save it.

In the op-ed piece, the author brings up the issue of patriotism and even quotes Benjamin Franklin (of course he does - everything is always about being a good American these days). Intellectual freedom is not an American ideal however - it is a human one. It's about having the right to read what is written, even if you can't afford it. And in a middle school library or high school library it is also about reaching for a book that your parents might not want you to read. It's about the right to choose that book and the public librarians - guardians of loftiest ideals of freedom you can imagine - are the ones who bring it within your grasp.

We choose access to books, Mr. Muncy of the Institute for American Values, and we ask that you honor our very American and human right to choose. And if you do not, then fine. We will simply do battle as we always have to protect that choice until the bitter end. That is what Banned Books Week is all about - our promise to you and the world that we will always fight the battle.

See more on why censorship matters at author Ellen Hopkins' lj with her very personal (and ongoing) struggle.

comments

Wow, they're serious, huh? It's not really banned if it's available somewhere.


Riiiight.

You can get crack cocaine anywhere, too, but you'd better believe that it has made a difference in the ease of its procurement that the government has "banned" it. More serious would be the difficulty of a child to get books withheld from the school library.

You say this so well, thanks so much!

Sandy

They are just another cog in the Rupert Murdoch machine of Fox News and the NY Post. Obviously they have an agenda, and one that is wrong wrong wrong.

Well said, Colleen.

Open letter to Ellen:

Hi Ellen,

I run a community library at an agency for at-risk youth. My girls know more than the f-word. And they have not only seen addiction up close and personal, some have had sex, sold drugs or know those who do. Many come from troubled homes. What I'm getting at is that I purposely put your books and plenty about rape(I had a serious request for this topic my first year running the library), incest and abuse on our shelves because my girls need and want the information.

I don't understand how adults fail to understand that literature like yours can help a girl avoid or survive these life traumas. What is the girl who was raped but has NO ONE or is unable to tell someone to do? The young woman who talked about her brother has it right.

We only have Crank but I'd love to Glass. Know there is another advocate who quite loudly fights for your right to tell the truth and our readers' right to read it.

*Ellen's blog didn't allow Open Id

Oh I love that Tanita - and yeah, it probably is easier to get drugs rather than books in some areas.

Lamest op-ed, EVER!

Bravo, Colleen.

onderfully said. I grew up in a very poor household and if it wasn't for the local and school library, my world would have been very small. Instead, books opened up a whole new world to me and also opened my mind to other people and cultures that were not in my backyard.


To say that the banning of books doesn't happen today is ludicrous. People may not be burning books in their backyard, but if the book is not available to the public is a public institute (aka libraries and schools) then you are participating in censorship.

I really think that only people who have HAD to rely on libraries for books realize how important they are. Which brings us back to how difficult it is to explain class differences in our society.

Libraries were everything to me as a kid - can't imagine how I would have turned out without them.

Many of these anti BBW posts/columns first get annoyed at a percieved misuse of the term banned/censor. "It means government banning it totally yadda yadda."

The thing is, rarely does the writer then condemn the one person trying to decide what others should and should not read. If anything, they either say "so what" or defend that, also. So in other words, yes, they defend the idea that when one parent doesn't like a book in school, but five others do, that one person trumps and should have the book removed. Because the other five can buy it elsewhere. Or because the see one parent with a particular personal agenda is the same as a vetted collection development policy that considers an entire community.

hope

I, for one, would agree with Mr. Muncie that books aren't banned unless they are made unavailable or dangerous to get. Of course, I would also say that's exactly BECAUSE of a certain organization with 67,000 members and a $54 million budget. His argument is like saying, "Well, six people fell overboard, but we haven't had a single person drowned on this canoe trip, so we can all take our life preservers off now." Sorry, Mr. Muncie, you would have to give me clear and incontrovertible evidence that all those challenges would continue to be ineffective before I think about asking ALA to stand down.

I really think that only people who have HAD to rely on libraries for books realize how important they are. Which brings us back to how difficult it is to explain class differences in our society.

Libraries were everything to me as a kid - can't imagine how I would have turned out without them.

Exactly. If you have been there, then you know and it is as easy as that.

Wonderfully said. I grew up in a very poor household and if it wasn't for the local and school library, my world would have been very small. Instead, books opened up a whole new world to me and also opened my mind to other people and cultures that were not in my backyard.

You made some good points there. I searched this topic and found out that most people will agree with your blog. thankx very much