25 Sep Banned Book Week 2019
Throughout history, there have been several incidents when groups of people thought it best to destroy literature. Whether the reasoning was to make “all history begin with him” as the Chinese Emperor Shih Huang Ti perceived in 213 BC, or prove a new leader had concurred the land, as the Mongols did to Baghdad in 1258, book burnings have dotted our history. Perhaps what stands out most in your mind from history class about book burnings is what stood out in mine – the Nazis destroying books in 1933 that depicted Germans or communism as anything other than superior. In all of these instances, it was the government trying to control and coerce their subjects to submit to a certain ideology. So, laws were passed forbidding certain materials.
Upon the foundation of the United States of America, the early leaders recognized the value of preventing government the ability to interfere in her citizens’ rights. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution says this:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peacefully to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” [emphasis added]
In a time when a nation’s leaders would only print whatever most furthered their agenda, and shut down whatever presses they disagreed with, this principle written into the very identity of the United States was groundbreaking, to say the least. Thus, this was one of the cornerstones in America’s foundation that caused her to became the greatest country on earth.
Other countries are not so fortunate. In 2017, China banned Winnie-the-Pooh because bloggers created memes showing similarities between its leader and Pooh Bear, which Chinese President Xi Jinping felt it was disrespectful for him to be compared to a silly bear. Therefore, our beloved little bear is illegal in that country.
What is a ban?
According to ALA (American Library Association), a ban is “removal of materials or cancellation of services based on content.”
A challenge is an “attempt to remove or restrict materials or services based on content.”
Are books still banned in America?
Since 1791 when the Bill of Rights was ratified declaring the freedom of speech, multiple cases have gone to court when differences of opinion clashed regarding what is appropriate material to publish and disperse. The primary disputes occurred when the material seemed pornographic. However, in more recent years, it has not been the U.S. government objecting to questionable material, but rather parents and fellow citizens. It’s the difference between passing a law forbidding the material, and someone voicing their opinion and seeking to remove that material because they’re concerned that item may affect people, especially children, negatively.
What is Banned Books Week?
Banned Books Week was founded in the 1980s by Judith Krug, the director for the Office of Intellectual Freedom, when challenges towards certain materials were on the rise. The hope was to foster awareness that removal of controversial materials was taking place. The event was successful and has continued every year since. Typically, Banned Books Week is recognized the last week of September. This year, it’s held September 22-28.
The Office for Intellectual Freedom was established in 1967 to “implement ALA [American Library Assoication] policies concerning the concept of intellectual freedom as embodied in the Library Bill of Rights, the Association’s basic policy on free access to libraries and library materials. The goal of the office is to educate librarians and the general public about the nature and importance of intellectual freedom in libraries.”
History demonstrates that not everyone will agree on everything. But the beautiful thing about the United States is our founding fathers understood this, and built protection for her citizens into its governing documents. By doing so, it gives power to parents to encourage their children what to consume and what to avoid, and does not prevent the spread of ideas on the basis that someone does not agree on the topic in question. Looking around the world today, there are many living in nations where the government is not so obliging. I think that’s why Banned Books Week can be so poignant – we recognize that we are fortunate, and commit anew to preserving that freedom.
Want to read a banned book? Try one of these.
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
- All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
- Animal Farm by George Orwell
- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
- The Giver Lois Lowry
- Skippyjon Jones by Judith Byron Schachner
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- Beloved by Toni Morrison
- The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
- Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
Whitney Wooters is the IT & Circulation Manager at the Shelby County Public Library. She’s been here since 2012, where she began in the children’s department working as a page. Meeting so many people and maintaining the website are her two favorite things about working at the library. Whitney is a graduate of Leadership Shelby (2018). When she’s not at work, she’s spending time with her husband and family, hoping that includes a fishing excursion or campfire.