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Banned Books Week

What are “banned books”?

Last week was Banned Books Week, but it’s never too late to think about what this means, particularly to an institution like the library.

One thing it doesn’t mean: If it isn’t on the library’s shelves, that doesn’t mean it is banned. We just can’t buy every book. However, we do make a real effort when someone requests a book to find it, and if multiple people request a book, to buy it. Any library’s collection also depends on the tastes of that library’s community so that resources aren’t spent on a book no one ever reads. Reading trends and habits are normally well known to librarians.

Librarians tend to be free thinkers when it comes to materials, not censors. As Director Pamela Williams has been known to say any number of times, “We want to get materials that people want and need into people’s hands. It is the most basic function of a library.”

The American Library Association’s website posts its definition of what it means to challenge and ban a book: “A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.” Generally speaking, libraries don’t like that.

Let’s complicate this by thinking about the availability of on-line materials that kids and teens might access at the library. The computers and iPads that will once again be available in the Children’s Wing someday have limited access materials. The kids using those aren’t on-line and cannot access the Wild Wild Web.

However, when you give permission for your older kids to use the computers in the main area, they are fully online (and you had to sign an agreement giving them permission and acknowledging our computer use policies). Although it is part of that agreement that no one is displaying, let’s say, porn on a library computer, no one is constantly monitoring those screens every second (although our librarians are pretty spry about being everywhere at once and very clever on spotting fishy behavior -- plus cameras). But when it comes to material that falls outside that library ban on its own computers, the library doesn’t make any attempt to parse whether one’s parents would like them to see whatever they are looking at. Obviously, that differs from parent to parent and, even then, from kid to kid. Therefore, parents need to trust their kids not to violate home standards when using library computers.

The same thing is true of your kids checking out books, by the way. When they are too young to make that decision, parents need to be there with their kids.

The general thinking at libraries is patrons don’t pick what other patrons get to read. But some materials are obviously banned by law – situations abusive to children is a good example. We support and respect that and indeed would report it to the authorities if it somehow occurred on our premises.

When I was teaching American Lit, the occasional student, maybe one a year, would read something like Ginsberg’s “Howl” (banned in the day, then taught all the time at colleges) and tell me, “No one should be allowed to have written that.” And we’d have a good conversation about the impossibility of pre-banning the expression of ideas while they are still in the writer’s head.

So here’s to Ginsberg, Twain, Salinger, and all those others whose once-banned work stood the test of time and retains a spot on library shelves across the country.

And here’s to all of you for understanding that we don’t all like the same thing or are even offended by the same thing. But we all love to read.

See you at the Library!

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