As many of my fellow librarians are (hopefully!) aware, Banned Books Week begins this coming Sunday, September 22nd. According to the ALA, BBW is “an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information.”
As a library school student, I find that it’s easy to forget that the day-to-day library world does exist outside of the Ivory Tower, and though library professionals tout the importance of access to information, challenges happen all the time, all over the United States and the world over.
What I’m interested in highlighting isn’t that censorship is something I don’t agree with (that is probably quite obvious), but rather, that there is a reason beyond principle that I think it’s unhealthy. That reason can be summed up quite neatly with the following video:
It really isn’t a dirty video. Not at all, and if you are familiar with Sesame Street, you know that was has been “bleeped” out is a remarkably harmless word: ‘count.’
I encountered this video during my time in the Robert E. Cook Honors College at IUP, my alma mater. We were addressing the question, “Must the need for social order conflict with the need for individual liberty? What, therefore, should we do?” In light of concerns regarding open access, national security, and the place of libraries in regulating information use, BBW is coming at a great time to revisit the dialog regarding censorship in particular.
Without getting terribly political, I want to point out what the video shows us in metaphor: by obstructing access to information, you sensationalize it. The Count’s harmless hobby seems vulgar because we have filled in those obstructive “bleeps” with our imaginations. I’m of the opinion that censorship of books (and other things) does the same thing. For example, when I heard in high school that Fahrenheit 451 was a controversial book that students could choose to read, I wanted in. And you know what? My reading of it wasn’t that sensational.
My point here is that by banning a book, challengers may be producing the opposite effect for potential readers, especially angsty teens. Thus, I’d encourage librarians, parents, and angsty teens alike to peruse lists of frequently challenged books and make up their own minds. BBW is a great time to start a dialogue about what challenging books can really mean, especially to young people.
Intersted in reading more MSLS student perspectives on censorship? I recommend any of the following posts from Hack Library School:
How Censorship Shapes Library Institutions