Our quintessential American holiday, Thanksgiving, is right around the corner. Imagine you are seated at a bountiful meal for which you are about to give thanks. For me this happens not once during fall, but twice. Thanksgiving, for me, also takes place during Banned Book Week, when I will give thanks for everything that we as Americans hold dear to our hearts.
Simply put, it is the example that most of us use when we defend our national identity. If anything, we believe it makes us different. It is the First Amendment, and I am thankful it belongs to all of us, and I will celebrate it during Banned Book Week.
Let’s celebrate! But what is Banned Book Week? It’s when librarians take all the books they don’t believe should be in the library, remove them, and throw them in the garbage. You weren’t aware of this? That surprises me. You do come to the library to see the same things over and over again, don’t you? You come to the library because it usually highlights a single viewpoint on issues. I mean, what would society be like if there was a place that showcased different political views? Who would go for that? Why would we want to learn about anything else? I mean, I don’t want to have an intelligent argument with people so we can resolve issues civilly. Let me just shout my point of view, and you can shout your point of view, and we can settle it that way until someone passes out. Why would we want to go to a place where we could read about different points of view and try and understand them? That sounds very strenuous.
Also, I like the way the world is. There has always been a United States. Automobiles must have been invented by the Greeks. The Internet has been around since the Dark Ages, right? How boring a place the library would be if it showcased the entire world’s cultures, religions, history, nationalities, science, points of view, art, etc. Nobody wants to see that! That’s why we have Banned Book Week. You want us to get rid of all that stuff, right?
OK, enough tomfoolery. Banned Books Week is the exact opposite of the aforementioned paragraphs. We aren’t banning books; we are celebrating formerly challenged or banned books. Why? Because libraries are beacons where we can see the First Amendment most clearly. They are repositories for our greatest human achievements and simultaneously our greatest human blunders. Because libraries fight censorship, which has caused horrible results in the past. And because it’s our job to provide access for all to all different points of view. (Check your history books or history apps on why that might be important.) I’ll give you a hint: A nation was burning books 70 years ago. Nations today ban books and Internet access. How would you feel if someone started telling you that your favorite websites were now inaccessible or that your favorite author was now in jail and wouldn’t be writing anymore? That we can only watch the Real Housewives of New Jersey and not Atlanta? That we can only watch the Denver Broncos? What if we could only read about nine shades of Grey?
In a world where information increasingly costs, libraries—your libraries—are providing citizens with free access to information. Its concept is great and just. Together, you provide yourselves with free access to information. You don’t need a subscription, there are no advertisements, and you don’t need supplemental technology, i.e. televisions, radios, computers, or e-readers. It’s free. Best of all, you provide it to everyone, no matter what their opinions, economic status, race, gender, sex, age, ethnicity, height, weight, hair color, etc. Nope, a library is there for everyone to gain access and education on important issues of the day and, most importantly, to let everyone get a chance to read and correlate that into a vote.
Banning, challenging, or censoring any information makes it difficult for us to grow in our own intellectual pursuits, to connect with each other, to argue efficiently, to challenge different opinions civilly, to resolve conflict in our lives, and to develop ideas for a better world.
So our libraries celebration begins with Banned Book Week. This year is the 30th anniversary of the event. Libraries around the county will have books that have previously been banned or challenged around the country and world. To many, censorship starts with books. Some of the most notable books that have been challenged have been Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and Sorcerer’s Stone. Oh, there’s more. There’s The Adventures Huckleberry Finn, Gossip Girl, Captain Underpants, and, inevitably, the rest of the Harry Potter series. To Kill a Mockingbird by author Harper Lee was challenged at a California high school as recently as 1995, even though Lee received the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and would eventually be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007. (Visit ala.org/bbooks to learn more about Banned Books Week.)
Banned Book Week officially runs Sept. 30 to Oct. 6 this year. Libraries around the county are celebrating this week with displays. Cal Poly librarians have exciting presentations in their library, and Cuesta College is providing current displays in the library reading rooms. Please visit slolibrary.org to see a video of staff celebrating with our favorite choices. I hope your celebration goes well. This week, I am giving thanks that I can live free by reading at our local libraries. ∆
Joseph Laurenzi, MLS, is the branch manager of the Los Osos Library. He’s lived and worked on the Central Coast for five years. As a librarian, he cherishes everyone’s freedom to read and speak freely. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.