Beating back book bans

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Banned Books Week is September 27th to October 3rd. On Thursday, October 1st from 12:30pm-2:00pm in Olin Library’s Bookmark Café is the Banned Books Week Read-Out, where participants are invited to read from their favorite banned books.

Erin Gallagher, Electronic Resources & Serials Librarian, shared details of what students can expect during the Read-Out.

“Students can expect an open-minded, convivial, and stimulating atmosphere. They can expect to see their friends, teachers, and beloved staff reading excerpts from banned or challenged books and hear how these books have impacted their lives. And hopefully, they will feel free to lend their voices to the read-out,” she said. “I’ve participated in these events at other colleges and they are always a lot of fun.  Students will hear excerpts from books ranging from The Bluest Eye to The Hunger Games to the Bible. Most importantly, they will come away from the event with an increased awareness of what it means to have access to what they want to read, when they want to read it. We’re very lucky to have that and we should not take it for granted.”

Banning books has a long history nationwide and worldwide. As college students, there may be a misconception that banned books is an issue isolated to Elementary, Middle and High School education, and is therefore not our problem. It is important to note this is an issue affecting our neighbors and community; the books students read while growing up are a crucial part of who they are today.

According to The Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association, over the last 25 years books featuring offensive language and sexually explicit content have been the most challenged. The primary individual challenger is the parent of a child, and institutional challengers tend to be school and public libraries, as well as schools themselves.

Gallagher reflected on why the issue of banning books needs to become a thing of the past.

“What good comes from banning books?  I know I take a passionate approach to the issue, but I also understand that, in most cases, books are challenged or banned due to good intentions. Parents are concerned that their children will be exposed to content that’s “unsuited to their age group”, which is a valid point and one that any parent might struggle with from time to time. The problem comes when book banning becomes a public issue that affects not only the child whose parent didn’t want him or her to read a particular book, but all the other children who would have had access to that book through their public library, bookstore, school, etc.,” she said.

She added, “Censorship is a sneaky phenomenon; it can happen overtly, as with bleeping out obscenities from TV shows, or it can happen quietly, as tends to be the case with book banning. I do take heart in knowing that the surest way to get people to find and read a book is to ban it.”

Dr. Patrick Fleming, Professor of English at Rollins College, agrees that banning books can make them more popular, pointing to historical fact.

“One of the great historical ironies is that censorship can make some titles wildly popular. In Romantic-era Britain, censored texts were not afforded intellectual property protection, and so could be freely pirated — meaning they were available far cheaper than other works. Percy Shelley’s Queen Mab benefited from this fact, and it helped make Lord Byron the age’s best-selling poet. (Today we refer to the “Streisand effect,” when trying to hide or censor a topic inadvertently makes it more popular).”

Members of the Rollins College community ca engage this week and stand up for their right to not only read the book of their choice, but also celebrate their individual freedom by participating in the event at Olin Library.

“Students should care about and have an awareness of the freedom to read because we’re not just talking about personal decisions and liberty and the First Amendment; we’re talking about stifling the opportunity to immerse yourself in an experience/viewpoint/perspective that challenges your own and allows you to grow into the kind of adult who can think critically and empathetically,” Gallagher said.  “How can we at Rollins tout “global citizenship” if we don’t also fight against censoring the global perspective found in literature? When a library, school, or bookstore removes a book for any reason (moral, ethical, political, religious, etc.), it sends the message that this book is wrong.  Who are we to decide what is right and wrong in literature?”

Professor Fleming argues that by banning certain topics, important conversations cannot occur.

He said, “We should trust teachers to decide what texts to assign, and students should be worried when political or religious groups try to wrest away that control. Books help readers understand the world, but they also shape the possibilities of our worldview. When we try to protect young readers, we deny them the opportunity to learn about and respond to uncomfortable elements of real life. But even worse, we marginalize young readers who encounter violence or abuse or racism by implicitly saying their experiences don’t matter and aren’t worth reading about.”

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