Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Banned Books Week arrives early

A disturbing sight confronted me on Sunday as I viewed the portable book-laden cart that serves as a small church library. Someone had removed an entire series of books by a particular author without checking them out.

Taking books is on the honor system but it does involve logging them out. The act of signing out a book provides important documentation that the book is being used, which helps the librarian select other books that she believes will be of value. It also provides accountability and an ability for follow-up; if other users want to borrow that book, the librarian will know who to contact.

It was upsetting to have absolutely no record of what had become of these books.

I was also concerned that someone would take an entire series; to me, that was plain selfishness. The polite thing to do would be to borrow one book at a time so others could read the series too.

As if it wasn't bad enough that someone would behave so selfishly and would apparently believe it was OK, there is a far more sinister possibility behind the disappearance of the books.

The American Library Association (ALA)'s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) has recorded more than 10,000 book challenges since 1990, according to a sample "Letter to the Editor" posted on its website. The OIF estimates that less than one-quarter of challenges are reported and recorded.

The sample column states, "A challenge is a formal, written complaint requesting a book be removed from library shelves or school curriculum."

The removal of books goes beyond merely challenging; it is an outright act of censorship, according to terminology adopted in 1986 by the ALA's Intellectual Freedom Committee. To quote the sample opinion column again, "Censorship denies our freedom as individuals to choose and think for ourselves."

Each year, the ALA draws attention to censorship and promotes the freedom to read through Banned Books Week. It compiles a list of books that have been subject to challenges using information collected from the media and from reports that are submitted by individuals.

Banned Books Week is held each year during the last week of September. In 2010, Banned Books Week took place from Sept. 25 to Oct. 2. It featured books that have been targets of attempted removal from libraries.

Banned and challenged books from the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century include "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Catcher in the Rye" by JD Salinger, "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck, "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee, "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker, "Ulysses" by James Joyce, "Beloved" by Toni Morrison and "The Lord of the Flies" by William Golding.
Libraries frequently highlight banned books during the month of September.

But as far as this volunteer librarian is concerned, Banned Books Week arrived early this year, with the blatant disappearance of books from the library that she administers.

For more information about issues of censorship, including banned and challenged books, visit www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/index.cfm.

Published Feb. 15, 2011 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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