Celebrate Your Right to Read!

by Dori Hillestad Butler (cross-posted from her blog)

It’s Banned Books Week! And my library is doing something really cool to celebrate. They started about a month ago. They gathered up all the books in their collection that they know have been challenged somewhere and put these bands around them:

Then they put the books back on the shelves. Or they put them in a display of banned books. The banned bands certainly got people talking. People weren’t sure whether they could still check the books out (they could) or even read them because the band went around the entire book! Ha! Talk about making a point.

And yes, that’s my banned book in the picture above. To my knowledge, my book has been challenged in Oregon, Indiana, Kansas, Colorado, Georgia, Texas, Nevada, and Florida. It also made the Canadian Library Association’s list of most challenged books and magazines for 2010.

My library didn’t stop at the banned bands. They decided to really draw attention to banned and challenged books during Banned Books Week this year and stage a live display of people reading banned/challenged books every hour that the library is open. So as soon as the library closed on Saturday, they built this little reading room:

As the local author of a challenged book, I got to kick the whole thing off when the library opened on Sunday (the beginning of Banned Books Week). I got the first hour in the chair. I’m reading To Kill a Mockingbird. Because I can

It was an interesting experience. This display is right out in the main atrium area, so it’s the first thing you see when you walk through the door. It was fun to watch people’s reactions.

One guy walked right up to the plastic and said to me, “what are you doing?”

I said, “Uh…reading.”

“Are you really reading a banned book?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Whoa! Radical!!!”

There wasn’t a single person who came in who didn’t at least glance at the display. But most did more than just glance. A lot of people came over to see what it was all about. A stranger asked if she could take my picture.

Some people just stood there and watched me for an unnervingly long time. One person said, “Oh, I’m glad you moved; it was a little freaky when you sat so still.”

A ten-year-old girl watched me for a while, then said to her mom, “Oh, wow! That’s a real person in there!” That girl had a really cool mom because the mom took the time to explain to her and to her little sister exactly what this display was all about and why it was important.

A library serves an entire community. That doesn’t mean that every item in the library is appropriate for every patron. Imagine what a library that only contained books and materials that EVERYBODY approved of would be like. Would there be anything in it at all?

Visit your local library this week. Take a look at some of books that have been challenged. Or cut/paste this URL to take a look at a list of books that have been challenged somewhere in the United States in the past year: http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/bannedbooksweek/ideasandresources/free_downloads/2011banned.pdf

Keep in mind this is not a complete list. Many challenges go unnoticed.

Be thankful this week that you live in a country where you are free to read what you choose. And don’t forget to thank your local librarians for all they do to fight censorship.

Celebrate Your Right to Read!