by Camille Rutherford
Southeast Campus Editor
Banned Books Week was first observed in 1982. In the years since, it has become an annual celebration of the right to read.
Natalie Manke, library assistant on the Metro campus; Josh Barnes, library assistant on the Southeast campus; and Adam Brennan, librarian at the Metro campus, recently got together to speak to The Connection about Banned Books and the freedom to read in honor of Banned Books Week.
“This is a time of year where libraries get together and celebrate our freedom to read and we call attention to efforts of censorship over the past year,” Brennan said.
“It’s a great time to sort of highlight the part that the public library and that other libraries like ours, academic libraries, play in supporting the freedom of speech or the right to read.”
TCC’s Southeast campus library hosted a “Freedom to Read Party” as a part of Banned Books Week.
“Today’s event was a celebration of [the right to read],” Brennan said.
“It was bringing some attention and some recognition to the issues of censorship in America today.”
“It was to let folks know a little about some of the books that were being challenged and talk a little bit about what it means, what reading means to growing and critical thinking, growing as a reader, and growing as a citizen.”
The event was, in part, to educate students on Banned Books and the particular form of censorship that is banning reading material.
“The main part of the presentation was on the top ten banned and challenged books of 2016,” Barnes said.
“This is a time of year where libraries get
together and celebrate our freedom to read and we call attention to
efforts of censorship over the past year.”
“Every time a book is challenged or banned it is reported to the National Library Association and they compile a list every year of the books with the most challenges.”
The lists of banned and challenged books from 2012 through 2016 can be found on the American Library Association (ALA) website.
“We told a little bit about each book and why it was banned or challenged and when we had information on it we talked about specific cases of where they were banned or challenged,” Barnes said.
“Books with LGBT content seem to be banned pretty frequently, especially of late it seems,” Manke said.
On this year’s list, a book with LGBT content is one of the recurring themes for challenging books.
“Books with LGBT content seem to be banned pretty frequently, especially of late it seems.”
The top five [most frequently banned] were all LGBT related books. Though actually one of them the LGBT was not even the main relationship in the book, it was just a relationship but that was enough,” Barnes said.
“I think it’s significant that half of them were banned because of that,” Manke adds.
“With more visibility comes more opposition.”
“That’s why you have these marginalized and venerable populations who need these book and need access to these resources the most and then you have people coming in and trying to put barriers up for peoples’ access to these things that they kind of desperately need,” she said.
“I think that that’s why it’s so important to promote this event and promote the freedom to read.”
“Two Boys Kissing,” by David Levithan, and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky appear most frequently on the top ten lists, both for portraying LGBT characters.
The difference between a challenge and a ban is not always clear and in many instances, the two terms are mistakenly used interchangeably.
“When a person challenges a book at a library, it is often not actually removed. If it is removed from a library or from a reading list of curriculum, then it is called a ban. Most of these books were challenged and not banned and that is due to librarians, teachers, and community members standing up for the freedom to read. It’s a very positive thing, in a lot of cases,” Barnes said.
According to the ALA, the most common reason for a book to be challenged is for being “sexually explicit” with “offensive language” as a close second.
In addition to collecting information on the type of challenge, the ALA collects information on the groups responsible for the challenge. The majority of challenges come from parents.
Not all challenged books get banned.
“One of the most powerful tools that a member of the community can utilize is raising the profile of a case when it comes along. A lot of the reasons these books are challenged and not banned is because they do have people who are willing to advocate for them and are willing to advocate for people’s right to read whatever they choose,” Brennan said.
“As just the average layperson, the best thing that you can do is be informed and when you do see such a challenge arise, do your best to make your voice heard.”
Once a book has been banned, it does not necessarily mean that the battle is over.
“Every time a book is challenged or banned it is
reported to the
Association and they compile a list every year of the books with the most challenges.”
“There have been instances where a book is banned, I’ve noticed people will tweet at the author or contact them somehow on social media. Several authors, when a book has been banned from a school or public library, will provide copies because usually authors are very passionate about the freedom to read,” Manke said.
British Sci-Fi author Neil Gaiman is one of the authors that Manke mentions. Gaiman has provided copies to institutions where one of his books has been banned on numerous occasions.
It is not just the authors, however, that have the ability to fight for the right to read.
“Stay informed, stay aware, and if you hear of a ban or challenge going on in your area, blast it on social media, write letters to the editor, and talk to your library,” Barnes said. “Even if the challenge isn’t at that library, maybe they want to do a display, just in solidarity. Libraries are always wanting to bring banned books and that fight to light.”
While many of the banned and challenged books have been brought up on serious issues, there have been a few that are challenged for more unconventional reasons.
In 2015, Hop on Pop: The Simplest Seuss for the Youngest Use, by Dr. Seuss was challenged on the grounds that it “encourages children to use violence against their fathers.”
The Bible and The Koran have both been challenged for religious viewpoints. Another common challenge is for “Offensive viewpoints.”
“I see this one a lot. Which just means that somebody didn’t agree with something. Or they have some sort of moral disagreement. A lot of [the reasons] are very vague terms like religious viewpoints,”Manke said.
“Bans can come from all sides of the political spectrum, on our banned books display, Sherman Alexie’s book “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian,” was banned for being culturally insensitive,” Barnes explained.
“Sherman Alexie is a Native American author who writes about Native Americans. He pokes fun at his own culture. He’s just writing about his own culture in a humorous way, but then people get offended.”
“The best thing that you can do is be
informed and when you do see such a challenge arise, do your best to make your voice heard.”
Books and films have so much in common where content is concerned. However, books frequently come under fire for the content they contain and films, for the most part, do not.
The reason, according to Brennan, Manke, and Barnes, comes down to tax dollars and whether the work is a part of the public versus private sector.
“A lot of it also has to do with how people’s tax dollars are spent,” Brennan said.
“There are libraries all across the United States and they provide a main focal point of access for so many people and much of that access for those books and materials, it’s paid for out of the pockets of taxpayers. People tend to be particularly sensitive when they feel that their money is going to pay to support a view point that they don’t, themselves, have and that’s where we start to see some of those challenges come about that we don’t see so much in the private sector.”
Another factor is the system of rating that films already have in place.
“Part of the thing about movies is that Hollywood and the MPAA [The Motion Picture Association of America] is a layer of self-censorship already folded into mainstream Hollywood movies,” Manke explained.
“A lot of times they go for a PG-13 rating because that’s going to make the most money and more people are going to see it so that’s already built in a little bit.”
That being said, there are infrequent instances where a film might be banned. One such instance was in Oklahoma.
“A film called “The Tin Drum” was ruled obscene by a judge in Oklahoma City, about 20 years ago. It was taken out of someone’s home who had rented it from video store,” Barnes said.
Banned Books Week is only a small part of fighting for the right to read.
The best thing that can be done to combat the censorship of books?
“Read banned books,” Brennan said.
For more information, visit ala.org.