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Roberta Stevens

Roberta Stevens

Posted: September 24, 2010 05:40 PM

Throughout the country, most children are starting a new academic year. Teachers are sending out lists of required readings, and parents are beginning to shop for books. In some cases, classics like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird may be missing from the curriculum or are unavailable at the school library due to challenges by parents or administrators.

A challenge is a formal, written complaint requesting a book be removed from library shelves or banned from the school curriculum. Since 1990, the American Library Association's (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom has recorded more than 11,000 book challenges, including 460 in 2009. About three out of four of all challenges target material in schools or school libraries, and one in four target material in public libraries. The Office for Intellectual Freedom estimates that less than one-quarter of challenges are reported and recorded.

Unfortunately, losing the right to choose reading materials for ourselves and our families is a reality in the United States. Despite community outrage, a school board in Stockton, Mo., banned Sherman Alexie's National Book Award-winning novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. The book was removed from the Stockton High School library due to the board's views on offensive language and sexual content.

Public libraries are also under fire. After a small group in New Jersey was successful in convincing a Mount Holly, N.J. high school library to remove Revolutionary Voices, by Amy Sonnie, neighboring Burlington County Public Library followed suit. The removals were fueled by the group's views on obscenity and pornography.

Danger does not arise from viewpoints other than our own; the danger lies in allowing others to decide for us and our communities which reading materials are appropriate!

It is thanks to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents and students that most challenges are unsuccessful and books like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Slaughterhouse Five and the Harry Potter series remain available. In West Bend, Wis. a citizens' group pushed to have more than 50 titles removed from the West Bend Community Memorial Public Library that they felt were obscene or pornographic. The community pushed back, and the titles remain on the library's shelves to this day.

Book challenges are not simply an expression of a point of view; they are also an attempt to remove materials from public use, thereby restricting the access of others. Even if the motivation to ban or challenge a book is well intentioned, the outcome is detrimental. Censorship denies our freedom as individuals to choose and think for ourselves. For children, decisions about what books to read should be made by the people who know them best -- their parents or guardians.

In support of the right to choose books freely for ourselves, the American Library Association is sponsoring Banned Books Week (Sept. 25 - Oct. 2, 2010), an annual celebration of our right to access books without censorship. This year's observance is themed "think for yourself and let others do the same" and commemorates the most basic freedom in a democratic society -- the freedom to read -- and encourages us to respect others' freedom to choose.

Since its inception in 1982, Banned Books Week has reminded us that while not every book is intended for every reader, each of us has the right to choose for ourselves what to read, listen to or view. Thousands of libraries and bookstores across the country will celebrate the freedom to read by participating in special events, exhibits and read-outs that showcase books that have been banned or threatened.

The American Booksellers Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers, the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the National Association of College Stores sponsor Banned Books Week. The Library of Congress Center for the Book endorses the observance.

American libraries are the cornerstones of our democracy. Libraries are for everyone, everywhere. Because libraries provide free access to a world of information, they bring opportunity to all people. Now, more than ever, let freedom read @ your library! Open your mind to an old favorite or a new banned book this week.