We Have Banned Books

September is my favorite month in library land. For the entire month, I await with anticipation the best library event of the year – Banned Books Week. I usually pull some of the best of the banned books off the shelf, make an eye-catching display, and sit back and wait for the questions to start pouring in. Invariably someone will ask, “Why would you want to celebrate dirty books?”

‘Dirty books’ is not at all what Banned Books Week is about. Libraries celebrate Banned Books Week as a testament to the strength of our freedom in the United States. We draw attention to acts of censorship that chill the freedom to read in order to stress how fortunate we are to live in a country that protects our freedom to choose what we want to read. If you doubt this, just ask anyone from a totalitarian society.

When we think of banned books, our minds go immediately to titles such as Lolita, Fanny Hill, Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Moll Flanders, all banned for violating obscenity laws. Not too many people would have to question the reason for the ban, even if they didn’t agree with it. But did you know that in 1965, Green Eggs and Ham was banned for its portrayal of early Marxism? In the early 1970’s the beloved Caldecott award-winner Sylvester and the Magic Pebble was banned because of its portrayal of police officers as pigs. How about Little House on the Prairie? Oh yes, little Laura ‘Half-pint’ Ingalls was guilty of racial prejudice by referring to Native Americans as ‘injuns’. The banning that would make me laugh out loud if it wasn’t so blasted pathetic would be that of My Friend Flicka, banned because the book uses the word “bitch” to refer to a female dog. The list goes on and on and becomes increasingly absurd.

To anyone in favor of ‘screening’ (read: censoring) books in our libraries, I would ask, “Who gets to be the morality police?” Do you want me to decide what’s good for you or your child? What if my morals and family values don’t match your own? Will you still abide by my choice for you, or should I abide by yours? Isn’t it infinitely better for all of us if we make our own decisions based on our own values? Freedom to Read swings both ways. You can decide for yourself if you want to read a book, and if you don’t want to you don’t have to. But what you can’t do is tell someone else that they can’t read it either.

Banned Books Week begins September 30th. Celebrate your freedom by waving an American flag, lighting up a sparkler and reading a banned book. Or don’t. The choice is yours.

– Teri Milbourn, Northern Resource Center manager