Celebrating the freedom to read: Banned Book Week

Every year since 1982, book stores, book lovers, and libraries across the country have spent the last days of September raising awareness and protesting censorship. Banned Book Week is also about celebrating; celebrating our freedom to read and the significance of the first amendment. Here is the short list of reasons to celebrate banned book week in 2011.

Reason number one is that most public libraries subscribe to the open book (yes, punerific) policy of the Library Bill of Rights. The Library Bill of Rights is as follows:

  1. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.
  2. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.
  3. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.
  4. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.
  5. A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.
  6. Libraries that make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.

Essentially this means that our public libraries are more bipartisan than we are, more free than the “free press”, and more unbiased than the Texas school board. Sobering thought, isn’t it?

Reason number two has everything to do with what the American Library Association calls the Freedom to Read statement. Just one of the many highlights of the ALA’s Freedom to Read is that its first tenet states [emphasis mine]:

It is in the public interest for publishers and librarians to make available the widest diversity of views and expressions, including those that are unorthodox, unpopular, or considered dangerous by the majority.

Some of the most celebrated progressive people in our history were considered unorthodox, unpopular, and/or dangerous at some point. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Samuel Clemons/Mark Twain, and Albert Einstein were all considered at turns unorthodox and/or dangerous. Can you imagine a world without any of them?

Another on a long list of reasons to celebrate is the increased ease and convenience with which public libraries can make literature available to the public they serve. Many libraries now have growing digital libraries accessible 24/7 on the web. E-reader owners can appreciate the check-out feature that allows them to download their favorite books in various compatible formats and read them on their devices for the same amount of time they would check out a paper or audio book. Three cheers for even more ways to freely read!

Good reads, cool t-shirts, fun activities, hilarious blog posts, and community spirit are a just a few of the ways people are sharing their love of reading and celebrating. There is something for everyone and variety is another reason to celebrate Banned Book Week.

In case you were concerned (like me) that this kind of censorship is still in an issue, you can rest easier knowing that after a peak in the 1990’s, the number of challenges per year have dropped by more than half. In 1995, there were 762 challenges. In 2010, the number of challenges topped out at 348. So while we should remain vigilant and resistant to censorship, we can celebrate the small victories.

Think libraries are all about literacy and the freedom to read? They are. But they also advocate for other important issues. Just a few of the things the ALA supports and/or is helping us with: net neutrality, broadband accessibility, copyrights and intellectual property, cultural diversity, and reading material for poor/low-income communities. Public libraries are also vital to many parents educating their children at home.

Unfortunately, funding for public libraries is under strain and/or facing drastic cuts that close library doors for good. This is why for Banned Book Week 2011, I’m encouraging everyone to join me in volunteering at a public library, donating books (especially frequently banned books), donating a few bucks to the American Library Association, and/or telling our local and state representatives how important libraries are to us. Libraries=Books=Knowledge=Power. Public libraries = power in the hands of the people.