Time to Read a Bad Book

Imagine this scenario:  You walk up to your college librarian and say, “I’d like to find *Bleep*!  Bleep?!!

September 27-October 4 is the 27th annual American Library Association Banned Book Week Celebration.  What the heck are we celebrating?  The freedom to read, the freedom to view, the freedom to exercise our first amendment rights by making our own choices about what we and our children take home from our school, public and academic libraries.  So come in and checkout a banned book & get your free, bright yellow I Read Banned Books Button!

Why do people want to ban or challenge books? On the basis of sex, of course, particularly if it’s sex education or gay sex.  violence, graphic language, or religion.  But you might be surprised that J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, is one of the most challenged authors of the last decade.  Why?  Witchcraft.  Seriously.   OK, but Where’s Waldo? There are hundreds of teeny tiny characters in the Waldo books and in one there is a beach scene with a topless sunbather.  Once the scandalous word got out kids (& adults) spent hours & hours trying to find her but she proved even more elusive than Waldo himself.

It isn’t enough for the people who disapprove of these books to refrain from reading them:  They don’t want any of us to read them  — they think they might damage us.  They want to protect our children.  They are doing it for our own good.

These examples may seem silly but the troubling truth is they occur with alarming frequency.  The many adult books that have been challenged or banned include Grapes of Wrath, Catcher in the Rye, The Color Purple, The Handmaid’s Tale, Song of Solomon, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Next, & I know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  Check out the American Library Association’s Frequently Challenged Books page to see other titles.

Librarians are committed to offering diversity of opinion and perspective in library collections.  In the digital world in particular it has become easy to associate only with those who agree with us and to read only what we want to know.   This can become a problem when we mistake it for reality.  We live in a country of varied beliefs and cultures and in a world where many live lives vastly differnt than our own.  Letting new knowlege past our filters may bring change, often a scary proposition.  With uncensored public access to information we maintain our right to have that choice.


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