what’s happening from the middle of “banned books week” websites

Here are my old Banned Books Weeks posts: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008. I skipped 2005.

I’ve been down with The Crud for the past few weeks. Not really sick, but not having a lot of extra energy to get involved in things outside my own library and jobs. Banned Books Week started on Saturday and runs through this week. I’ve been invited to an evening with readings from banned books tomorrow night and I think I’m staying home.

I’m not sure if I’m getting complacent, sick of this holiday, sick generally, or there really is a lot less enthusiasm this year from years previous. The ALA page is usually my starting point and it seems a little less lively than usual. Their calendar of events is Chicago based (wouldn’t it be great if they were an aggregator to BBW activity worldwide? Does such a thing exist) and indicates to me that they still haven’t learned to resize images before uploading them. The ALAOIF blog hasn’t posted yet this week though they did link to this cute video put out by ALA which I enjoyed. The main ALA BBW page doesn’t even link to the Banned Books Week page which is supposedly the “go to” page for current information — and does have a calendar of sorts — which has a broken stylesheet declaration which makes all the pages look like they were designed in 2003.

As usual, I clicked through from the ALA web page to the home pages of all the organizations who are co-sponsors of Banned Books Week. Here’s what I found.

Even ALA’s home page doesn’t mention Banned Books Week except on page six of their slide show where they tell us what we can buy to support it.

I wonder a little bit if this is what a post-Judith Krug ALA looks like? On a brighter note, let’s look at some Banned Books Week web pages that are useful and/or interesting

While I’m talking about this, I’d also like to mention the data on the PBS page.

According to the ALA there have been 3,736 challenges from 2001-2008:

* 1,225 challenges due to “sexually explicit” material
* 1,008 challenges due to “offensive language”
* 720 challenges due to material deemed “unsuited to age group”
* 458 challenges due to “violence”
* 269 challenges due to “homosexuality”
* 103 challenges due to “anti-family”
* 233 challenges due to “religious viewpoints”

I think we need to look hard at this list and draw some conclusions about what sort of people believe that restricting access to books for these reasons is both a good idea or a reasonable thing to expect to be able to get away with. And then, if we want to get serious, I think we need to hit these points directly and ask people why they’re afraid of sex, or gay people (or penguins), or swearing. It’s nice to say that “free people read freely” but it’s another to be in a situation where your institutions are getting pressured by people who are intolerant and thinking that speaking truth to power is all you need to do. I’ve talked a little more about this in the MetaFilter thread about Banned Books Week, it’s always a reflective time of year for me.

Also, ALA knows that BBW means something else, right?

13 thoughts on “what’s happening from the middle of “banned books week” websites

  1. Did you read the editorial in the Wall Street Journal? “Finding Censorship Where There Is None” by Mitchell Muncy. He makes an interesting point that libraries celebrating banned books week in effect stigmatizes patrons who wish to register concerns about materials.

  2. My thinking is that most everything about BBW is overblown and borderline absurd, starting with the title. My state is relatively rural, relatively conservative and every single one of the “banned” books is available in every public library, and we have very little in the way of challenges because the libraries are well connected with their communities and take parental responsibility as the guiding principle.

    ALA should rebrand the whole concept- there are plenty of authors and librarians in other countries who take real risks and face real threats. self-congratulatory navel-gazing based on the fact that we slap down anyone who suggests that TTFL is a s****y book that probably damages girls self-esteem if they read it is parochial and bordering on insulting.

  3. I’ve never really understood the purpose of this event. Does the public really need to be lectured to about censorship? The people who want to censor or ban books are certainly gaining nothing from our well-meaning library displays, and I don’t really see any teenagers running out to get a book BECAUSE it has been banned in other places. We can tell kids that they have freedom to read whatever they want, but if they are reading books that their parents don’t approve of or let them check out what are we really telling them, that other people also read books that their parents don’t like? “uh… thanks.” We aren’t changing anybody’s mind here. The most I ever get at my library is “Huh, To Kill a Mockingbird was banned in some high school? That’s weird.” How about instead of talking about banned books we talk about banned people. We talk not about “Annie on my Mind” but about real gay teenagers who are facing abuse and how people in the community can help.

  4. I have never been a real fan of the name of the week, Banned Books Week, but I am a fan of the spirit of the week and the opportunity to acknowledge that we are mostly a free society where free expression is not just tolerated but encouraged. Yes, many other countries have significant censorship of materials and expression where we do not, which is why we celebrate this week and the 1st Amendment of our Constitution.

    Today on the Thom Hartman Program, http://www.thomhartmann.com/, was a very good segment about Banned Books week with Kenneth Davis. To get a little bit of the flavor of the discussion here is a short video, http://www.dontknowmuch.com/2009/09/banned-books-week/ .

    We have had a lot of press about the event locally, newspapers and radio. We are too rural for our own tv outlet. Statewide, Oregon, the ACLU has sent out great little yellow buttons for free to libraries that we are handing out to our patrons. The buttons, of course, say “I read banned books.” The people coming into the libraries are seeing the displays and happily leave the library wearing a button.

  5. I spent some time this afternoon on the Mapofbookcensorship.html website looking at the specifics of the listed complaints. Everything I looked at fell into the following general structure:
    1. Parent or other community member had a concern about the content or appropriateness of library material
    2. They registered the concern with an agency that had authority over the issue
    3. The agency considered the concern within its governing policy
    4. In some cases, the outcome of the initial consideration was felt to be unsatisfactory
    4a. In very few cases, access to the library material was limited in some manner. Typically this was by changing the grade to which the book was assigned (which seems perfectly legitimate to me), or by changing the location of a book within a library (less legitimate IMHO)
    5. In most of these cases, there was a further consideration by the same or other agency
    6. The outcome of every case was that library material remained available.

    It seems reasonable enough that in effect there is a structure that allows participation and influence by people with an interest in the matter, and that this structure is subject to a number of checks and balances. Maybe the motto of BBW should be “Librarians know better”? In any case, ALA is spending a lot of resources every year to point out that a very few people don’t want their kid to read Bless Me Ultima, and that their complaints don’t really have any impact.

  6. Perhaps it would be more accurate to call the week “Challenged Books Week.” It lacks a certain umph though.

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