sticky issues surround banned books

According to ALA, the three top reasons for book challenges are: the book is “sexually explicit,” the book contains “offensive language,” or the books is “unsuited to age group.” Please note that one of the most challenged books for 2003 “Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture” by Michael A. Bellesiles, was challenged for inaccuracy. A cursory amount of research will show that according to many the book has been discredited. The original publisher, when faced with the evidence against the author, ceased publication of the book. A smaller press is now re-issuing it, but in a revised edition, with a 50 page addendum. The author resigned from his university job.

Where does this leave librarians? I know this is a sticky issue. I’m just wondering if it’s possible that there are appropriate reasons to challenge a book? Not a storybook about raging-hormone teens or the antebellum South, but a true book about history. A book that many, including its publisher, believe to have errors of fact and conclusions based on poor or inaccurate research. Do you keep it for historical balance? Do you include a note saying “this book has been found to be untrue in parts?” Do you include a book about the errant book, setting the record straight? This seems to be the week to talk about this. On the one hand, we as a profession defend people’s rights to the privacy of what they read, and say “Just because someone is reading about bombs, it doesn’t make them a bomber.” on the other hand, we say that “Reading changes lives.” and view every challenged book — challenged for whatever reason — as an injury to the profession. As usual, I have more questions than answers on this one. Oddly, the ACLUs list of the “most banned books” doesn’t include Arming America while the ALA list, and their press release clearly does.

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