Minot-Sleeper librarian Paula McKinley feigned her shock behind a display of books that have made their way over the years onto the American Library Association's Banned Books List. (Photo by Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
October 03, 2018REGION – Last week was Banned Books Week, an annual event that the American Library Association states "draws national attention to the harms of censorship."
In synchronization with that message, Plymouth's Pease Public Library and Bristol's Minot-Sleeper Library joined libraries all over the United States in displaying some of the books in their collections contained on a list of what they term as "challenged" books. Each of the books have made the list due to formal protests made by members of the public but, for the most part, continue to be made available to readers.
Diane Lynch of Pease Library said every library holds forms for those who wish to challenge a book that, once completed, are sent to the ALA. Trustees of each library also review the challenge then determine if the book should be removed from their shelves.
"For the most part, the reason they're challenged is because they have a strong message, but very few things get banned," said Lynch. "We haven't banned anything since I've been here."
One exception to actual bans may be in schools, where parents can occasionally take a strong stance against books in their libraries or are required reading for a literature class.
"Schools have more issues with things like that. But if a parent doesn't want their child to read a book, maybe they can choose another rather than having the book banned," she said.
Most books are challenged for language, violence, sexual content, religious beliefs or for being considered unsuitable for the targeted age group, like "19 Minutes," which was brought under scrutiny recently in a local school district.
Brittany Overton, director of Minot-Sleeper Library, agrees that banning a book is not the solution in most cases. Her favorite book, the classic 1960 novel "To Kill A Mockingbird," is a perfect example. It was challenged due to the inclusion of words that are no longer considered appropriate in today's social climate.
"By censoring certain words that are not [politically correct] today, we are essentially ignoring a part of our history, whether it was right or not," she said.
Libraries are finding that lately not only books are being challenged. Movie videos they offer are also under fire. Recently Bill Cosby books and videos, once thought to be humorous family entertainment, are being challenged due to his recent conviction for sexual abuse.
"Authors and actors personal lives should not be something used to deem their material inappropriate," Overton said. "Our jobs here in the library are not to determine whether someone's personal life is acceptable. If a book or movie is interesting to the community, we'll have it."
Last week, both Pease and Minot-Sleeper placed many of the books on the ALA Banned Book List on display. Overton's staff added a bit of levity to theirs by wrapping the shelf with yellow "Caution" tape. The result was as intended- people stopped to see what books some have deemed inappropriate and were stunned by what they found.
"It's brought up a lot of good conversations," she said.
Besides "To Kill a Mockingbird" other well-known challenged titles included "Catcher in the Rye," "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Catch-22," "The Great Gatsby," "Brave New World," "Grapes of Wrath" and "The Kite Runner." New Hampshire residents may or may not be surprised to learn that "Peyton Place," purportedly a novel centered on past activities in Gilmanton, was also on the list, while arguably the most surprising book to make its way to the banned list is the Holy Bible.
Lynch said "Captain Underpants," a children's book series on the list, was challenged to the ALA as well because it contained perceived violence, was unsuitable to the targeted age group and was "causing children to challenge their parents."
"People want to isolate their children today it seems, but you don't have to read these books if you feel they aren't appropriate for your child," she said.
On a historical note, Lynch also pointed out that in the early 1940's the U.S. Post Office refused to deliver shipments of the classic book, "For Whom the Bell Tolls," because it was believed to contain Communist ideals.
Overall, librarians today feel their duty is to provide literature that suits the needs and wants of all readers. Subjects and language in one book may not be suitable for all readers; some may be offended by certain topics while others learn from them. In the end, it's not up to a library to decide and they will continue to make these challenged books available to the public.
"Censorship is not the answer," Overton said. "There are other ways to deal with society's concerns."
For a year-by-year list of books that have been challenged, visit www.ala.org.