It’s that time again – the last week of September is when we celebrate Banned Books Week. Unfortunately, there have been two major cases of attempted censorship in the news recently. First, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye came under fire in her home state of Ohio, when the Ohio Board of Education President called it “pornographic” and advocated its removal from the state teaching guidelines (it is included in the Common Core for 11th grade). The ACLU defended Morrison, writing a letter (PDF) to the Board of Education, and Morrison herself responded, saying that while she would not be surprised if this happened in Texas or North Carolina, she resented this action in her home state.
Next, Rainbow Rowell’s young adult book Eleanor & Park – beloved by many of the librarians here in Arlington – was attacked in Minnesota. The National Coalition Against Censorship wrote, “Rainbow Rowell had been gearing up for her speech in front of the student body of Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota. She was also slated to speak at the Anoka County Public Libraries, as the two groups had partnered to select Rowell’s book Eleanor & Park for the county Rock the Read optional summer reading book. Many of the district’s students did read the book, which has been been the object of much critical acclaim.”
However, disgruntled parents objected to the book; one parent “lodged a challenge to profanity in the book and asked that the librarians who organized the talk to be punished.” The parents brought their complaints to the County Board, which cancelled the talk and asked the librarians not to speak on the topic.
Rowell was at first reluctant to speak about the incident, but eventually gave an interview. She said, “I grew up in a city, Omaha, that’s even smaller than Minneapolis and not that far away. The Midwest isn’t someplace I’m trying to escape – it’s where I’m raising a family. I hate to think that intellectual freedom is something we fight for only in certain parts of the country. Kids here have the right to read. They have the right to think and imagine. To see their own world in books. To see other worlds in books. I respect these parents’ decision to not let their own kids read my book or hear me talk. But it really shocks me that they’ve been able to make that decision for the whole school district.”
We couldn’t have put it better ourselves. In fact, the Librarian Code of Ethics states:
“We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.”
“We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources.”
The library is a place where we strive to include a full spectrum of ideas and perspectives, and make them available to anyone who is interested. Of course, parents have a right to determine what is or isn’t appropriate for their own minor children – and parents should be involved in and aware of what their kids are reading – but no one has the right to ban books on such a sweeping level.
This week in at Robbins, we’ll be displaying some banned books. Just look for this label:
Banned Books Week is about celebrating our freedom to read whatever we wish, and granting that freedom to everyone who walks through the library doors.
See also: This week’s Open Book column in the Arlington Advocate, where our very own Rebecca talks about penguins and intellectual freedom. And if you’re a little fuzzy on what Banned Books Week actually is, check out last year’s post on the topic.