EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON
What do “Fifty Shades of Grey,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the Bible, and the “Captain Underpants” book series have in common?
People have tried to ban them.
“It still happens today,” said Misty Smith, the children’s librarian at the Marble Falls Public Library. “We’re not talking about the Middle Ages; we’re talking about today. We still have people who want to ban some books.”
The Marble Falls Public Library is highlighting Banned Books Week, which is September 22-28, along with libraries and book lovers across the country. It’s to remind people that the practice of challenging and banning books — and even burning books — still occurs. In 2018, an Iowa man burned four library books because of their LGBTQ theme.
The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom tracks the practice of book challenges and bans. According to the ALA, a challenge is “an attempt to remove or restrict materials or services based on content.” A ban is the “removal of materials or cancellation of services based on content.”
A great thing about books, Smith said, is they open people’s minds to new ideas, different perspectives, and more voices. And, yes, she added, they can challenge us.
“You can read the same type of books, but you don’t really grow when you do that,” Smith said. “I think it’s important to read books outside our comfort zones, or what we usually would, just so we can get exposed to different ideas or ways of looking at things.”
Unfortunately, you can be denied the opportunity to read a book if someone finds its topic objectionable and successfully has it removed from a library or bookstore.
Smith said people challenge books for a multitude of reasons. The most common being LGBTQIA themes; religious, political, or sexual content; violence; perceived racism; and objectionable language.
However, she said, banning these books is not the solution.
“You may not like a book because of what it’s about, but someone else may need it because of what they’re going through,” Smith said.
The young adult category has received a large share of challenges and ban requests. According to the ALA, parents initiate 33 percent of all challenges. As the children’s librarian, Smith is acutely aware of how material in young adult books can often be uncomfortable to some, but that doesn’t mean the material should be removed, she said.
Smith said books played a big role in raising her now-19-year-old daughter. And not the “how-to” ones; just letting her daughter read a wide variety of books. Authors can make us uncomfortable, Smith agreed, but that helps us grow as a person.
While censorship can occur anywhere, it mostly happens in public and school libraries. According to the ALA, 82 percent of all challenges in 2018 were for library books. While these facilities have a responsibility to the general public, they are also places for intellectual freedom and stimulation.
If every book that offended someone was removed from library shelves, there would be virtually nothing left to read.
“Let’s face it: It’s so easy to be offended these days,” Smith said. “I understand you may not like a book or what it’s about. Then don’t read it. Don’t take it away from someone else.”
While some people object to the “Harry Potter” series, others find it riveting and are drawn to its underdog characters and good-versus-evil theme.
Smith said it’s unfortunate there’s still a need for a Banned Books Week in the United States, which strives to protect individual freedoms.
“The week gives us a chance to highlight that banning books still happens even here in the United States,” she said. “But we still have that freedom to read what we want, even if someone else doesn’t like it.”
To check out some of the books that make the annual most challenged list, stop by the Marble Falls Public Library, 101 Main St. And, if you have questions or concerns about a book, ask the librarian or vendor.