It’s “Banned Books Week.” The American Library Association rolls out this observance every year to “highlight…the value of free and open access to information” and “draw… national attention to the harms of censorship.” As an American who prizes the First Amendment and who writes and reads what she pleases, I suppose I should be all in with the ALA on this. Something here doesn’t pass the sniff test, though.
I’m not all in, for the simple reason that the ALA conflates the banning of books with the challenging of books.
A government or school agency that prohibits the publication or ownership of a book, and is willing to back up the prohibition with threats of fines or loss of liberty, is in the banning business. Rights of publishers, owners, and readers are denied outright in such a situation.
On the other hand, my right to read isn’t undermined if someone objects to an item on my public library’s shelf. The rights of the kids in my neighborhood aren’t affected if someone challenges the inclusion of one book or another in the local public school’s curriculum. The challengers in those cases aren’t banning a book any more than the people who chose the book for the curriculum or library in the first place were banning alternatives.
Such challenges might annoy me or amuse me or trigger an eye-roll. What they don’t do is amount to a ban. And that is apparently where I part ways with the estimable folk at the ALA with whom I share deep respect for literacy and the freedom to read.
Something else I respect is the power to question authority, including authorities who select media for libraries and schools. Why this book? Why not that one? What are you teaching? To whom are you offering or denying a platform?
A community might be discomfited when a book is challenged. Better the challenge, though, than unquestioning acceptance of what the professionals decide ought to be on our school and library shelves.
Yes, people of all ages have a right to read. They also have a right to know that questioning authority does not amount to censorship.
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