This week (September 26 – October 3, 2009) is Banned Books Week. Never heard of it? Then you haven’t been to a library in a while…
Each year libraries across America celebrate our freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. While Congress has no right to abridge the freedom of the press nor to censor what we read/write/watch/hear, local communities and organizations continue to do so. Every year hundreds of books are either banned or removed for restricted access from schools and from public libraries based on various concerns: sex, language, violence, occult themes, homosexuality…you name it, there’s a reason. Because for every book, or movie, or album there is a person that will be offended by it.
As a writer, I can accept the idea that what I create can be deemed poorly written, not interesting, or uninspired. But the thought that someone could arbitrarily label my work as “offensive” or “morally wrong” is abhorrent to me. Even more abhorrent is the idea that because of such a label, others would be denied the right to read it and to form their own judgments…even if that results in a letter written to me about how badly written my story was.
In my nearly 15 years working in libraries, I have had conscientious citizens approach me about materials, wondering what would happen if “some kid” got a hold of it. I have also seen librarians want to restrict access to things that patrons “didn’t really need to see”. It confounds me every time.
I could make the usual point that what offends one may not offend another, or that censorship generally seems like a good idea until they come for your stuff. These are points are still true but have been said before. However, I will add that I really abhor the idea of “child-proofing” the world. Our job is not to protect children from the way the world really is…our job is to prepare them to live in it. Keeping someone from reading about the hurtful things that exist in the world does not protect them from real harm and can actually help ensure that they cannot deal with a bad situation in their real life.
Mur Lafferty has written a very good blog that covers most of what I would say on this topic. I especially love her final point:
To me, it’s about trust, and the lack of it. Kids are smarter than we think; they can handle the occasional disturbing thing, the occasional swear word, the very concept that the world is not sunshine and butterflies and there are bad people around.
Does this mean I’m for shuffling the 8-year-olds into the next Tarantino movie? No. I do think that it is up to parents to decide what is good for their kids. And sometimes it’s good for parents to let kids explore. If the kid finds an offensive book, and if they’ve actually had a constructive conversation with their parent(s), they’ll probably find it to be pretty “icky” as well…on their own and with their own brain-power. I think librarians, local vigilance committees, school boards, and the like need to trust people to make their own decisions.
You can see more about Banned Books Week at the American Library Association website. Be sure and check out the lists of banned/challenged books…I think you’ll be surprised at some of the selections. Feel free to be a little naughty–pick one up and check it out…before someone else decides you’re not ready for it.