Friday, September 24, 2010

September 26 to October 2 is Banned Books Week!

by Heather Kushnerick, Special Collections Librarian

In honor of this important event, an exhibit of banned and challenged books, along with the stated reasons for deeming them objectionable, is on display in The Fred Parks Law Library lobby (Taming Poseidon is on hiatus for the week). Every year hundreds of requests are made to remove books from library shelves because the content is considered objectionable. The list of offensive books includes Judy Blume’s Are you there God? It’s Me, Margaret; The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams; How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell; Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne, and Little Red Riding Hood.

Objections to books are typically made because someone judges the content to be inappropriate on social, political or religious grounds, or because it is sexually explicit. The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom compiles a list every year of the top 10 most frequently challenged books. They have also compiled lists of the top 100 most frequently challenged and banned books for the decades of the 1990s and the 2000s. In the 2000s, number 69 on that list was Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, a book that is about censorship and the banning and burning of books. Originally published in 1953, the publisher, Ballentine Books, marketed two different versions of the book – the “adult” (i.e. original) version and an expurgated version that was sent to schools. In 1973 it stopped selling the adult version, but continued to publish the edited version in which over 75 passages were changed; offensive words such as ‘hell,’ ‘damn,’ and ‘abortion’ had been removed. The publisher withdrew the edited version in 1980 after Bradbury discovered what they had done (Sova, Dawn B. Banned Books: Literature Suppressed on Social Grounds. New York: Facts on File, 2006).

One of the most censored books in America is Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, and the list of reasons is quite long: obscenity, vulgar language, violence, inappropriateness, ungodliness, immoral subject matter, cruelty, and an unpatriotic portrayal of war. It has been the subject of several law suits as well: in Michigan, Todd v. Rochester Community Schools (1972), circuit Judge Arthur C. Moore told a high school to ban the book for violating separation of church and state. The Michigan Appellate court overturned this decision. It was also one of the books mentioned in Pico v. Board of Education, the first school censorship case to make it to the Supreme Court. The court ruled that “[l]ocal school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books …” (Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853 (1982))

There are many court cases surrounding the right to read; one of the more recent ones is from 2003, Counts v. Cedarville School District (295 F. Supp. 2d 996). The suit was filed in reaction to the school district requiring students to obtain written permission from their parents in order to have access to the Harry Potter books. The Court overturned the board’s decision. In 2000, the court ruled in Sund v. City of Wichita Falls, Texas (121 F. Supp. 2d 530) that a city resolution to remove Heather has Two Mommies and Daddy’s Roommate from the children’s section of the library was discriminatory.

The Fred Parks Law Library joins the ALCU student chapter in celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. There will be a reading of banned books in the student lounge on Thursday, September 30, from 11am to 1pm. We hope to see you there, and remember to check out the exhibit in the library lobby.

For more information:
Regarding court cases and banned books click here.
On book banning in schools click here.