Banned Books week approaches, and with it follows all of the benefits of mass opposition to censorship or attempted censorship - public read-ins of some of the most challenged works, open display of vilified novels by libraries and bookstores. This article ties together the many messages of this week, the mistakes that have been made, and progress toward the future of a free intellectual democracy.
Intellectual freedom is something all free people take for granted - and in reality, it can be taken away as simply turning a key in a lock. This week is for the lucky few that are allowed to read anything that strikes them, to say what hits their mind without legal repercussion, and to exercise any political opinion publicly.
Since 1990, the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom has recorded more than 7,000 book challenges, including 515 in 2002. Three quarters of all challenges are to material in schools or school libraries, while one quarter object to material in public libraries.
Thanks to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents, and students, most challenges are unsuccessful and reading materials like "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," and "Slaughterhouse Five" remain available. You can see the list of “The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books” of the last decade at the library or on the ALA Web site at www.ala.org/bbooks/top100bannedbooks.html.
The most challenged and/or restricted reading materials have been books for children. While most families nationwide have embraced the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, they are the most frequently challenged titles in the country.
Challenges are not simply an expression of a point of view; on the contrary, they are an attempt to remove materials from public use, thereby restricting the access of others. Even if the motivation to ban or challenge a book is well intentioned, the outcome is detrimental. Censorship denies our freedom as individuals to choose and think for ourselves. For children, decisions about what books to read should be made by the people who know them best — their parents or guardians.
Luckily for those in surrounding areas, the Dover, New Hampshire public library will soon commemorate this event with celebration:
In support of the right to choose books freely for ourselves, the Dover Public Library joins with ALA to sponsor Banned Books Week (Sept. 20 – 27, 2003), an annual celebration of our right to access books without censorship. This year’s theme, “Open Your Mind to a Banned Book,” commemorates the most basic freedom in a democratic society — the freedom to read freely — and encourages us not to take this freedom for granted.