The authors of our Constitution and the Bill of Rights recognized the importance of the freedom of speech in a democratic nation.
This freedom extends to the right to read and access information.
Since 1990, the Office for Intellectual Freedom has recorded more than 10,000 book challenges. A challenge is a formal, written complaint requesting a book be removed from library shelves or school curriculum. About three out of four of all challenges are to material in schools or school libraries, and one in four are to material in public libraries.
As of January 2011, the Waupaca Area Public Library held 67,701 volumes in print. If we were to eliminate 10,000 of those books because someone objected to their content, our collection would be considerably diminished, and the rights of our citizens to access that information would be impaired.
One might argue that the books that people objected to were just “bad books.” However, a list compiled of the most-often censored books included titles such as To Kill a Mockingbird, Huckleberry Finn, Little House in the Big Woods and the Holy Bible.
It is thanks to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents and students that most challenges are unsuccessful and reading materials like I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Slaughterhouse Five, the Harry Potter series and Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Alice series remain available.
The most challenged or restricted reading materials have been books for children. However, challenges are not simply an expression of a point of view; on the contrary, they are 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.
In support of the right to choose books freely for ourselves, the Waupaca Area Public Library and other libraries throughout the nation are sponsoring Banned Books Week Sept. 26 through Oct. 1, an annual celebration of our right to access books without censorship. This year’s observance commemorates the most basic freedom in a democratic society – the freedom to read freely – and encourages us not to take this freedom for granted.
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 decide for ourselves what to read, listen to or view. The Waupaca Area Public Library and thousands of libraries and bookstores across the country will celebrate the freedom to read. Stop in the Waupaca Library to see displays of books that have been challenged.
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, celebrate the freedom to read at your library. Read an old favorite or a new banned book.
Peg Burington is director of the Waupaca Area Public Library.