Don?t judge a book by its cover… or content

Tony Gorder

Tony GorderEditor-in-Chief

If you’ve every read To Kill A Mocking Bird or an installation of the Harry Potter series, you’ve read a frequently challenged and sometimes, successfully banned book.

Held Sept. 25 through Oct. 2, Banned Books Week is an annual international event celebrating the freedom to read while highlighting the harms of censorship. The Hilton M. Briggs Library celebrates the week with a display showcasing banned books.

“We do recognize it because it is an important issue,” said David Gleim, SDSU dean of libraries. “Fortunately, at this library, it’s not an issue.”

Books are banned from specific libraries, not statewide or national bans, according to Elizabeth Fox, digital information service librarian.

Gleim said that book challenges do not usually happen at a university level.

“Usually the cases involve parents who are upset to find something on the children’s bookshelf,” Gleim said.

Brookings Public Library has had “maybe a dozen” challenges to books or other audio-visuals in the past 25 years, according to Elvita Landau, Brookings Public Library director, but no materials have been successfully banned. The library does, however, offer a formal process for those who want to ban a book.

“It’s certainly a person’s right to challenge a book,” Landau said. “We take everything very seriously if someone complies (with the process).”

All but one of the American Library Association’s 10 most frequently challenged books of 2009 featured the reason as “unsuited for age group.” Fox said this is because many book challenged in school libraries.

“I don’t see the point (of banning books),” said Walker Darkow, a pharmacy major from Owatonna, Minn. “It’s just like video games. It’s not their problem, it’s the parents’.”

Fox said that deciding what children read is, for the most part, a parental responsibility.

“For the classroom, age inappropriateness could be a legitimate complaint, but if your child is just choosing books, you need to be with them,” Fox said.

Challenging a book, however, can have the reverse effect.

“Getting on these lists actually is not a bad thing for a book,” Fox said. “People do read them if they’re banned because they want to know why they are banned.

As a librarian, Gleim said he had mixed feelings on the matter.

“The fact that a parent or someone would be upset enough to challenge a book … at least it shows people are interested in books and books are important,” Gleim said. “Better that than no one caring at all.”

Gleim, however, said he finds the idea of book censorship a slippery slope.

“Once you get on the road of banning a book or relocating it, where do you stop?” Gleim said. “You really would be opening the floodgates if you suddenly started to mold the collection to what would make people happy. They would never be happy.”

Landau and Fox said that, when it comes down to it, it’s up to the individual to decide what they want to read while respecting others’ rights.

“Once you’re an adult, it’s up to you to decide what you want to read,” Fox said. “There are things I don’t want to read, so I don’t read them.”

“I feel that an item that has been published probably has an audience. We convey to the public that it’s a public library and everyone has the right to read what they read,” Landau said. “The people understand that. They recognize the right that someone may want that information.”

Fox said that those who challenge books or even burn books are also expressing their First Amendment rights, the same rights advocated by Banned Books Week, which should also be respected.

“Even if we don’t like what a person is saying, they have the right to say it,” Fox said.

Top 10 most frequently challenged books of 2009

TTYL; TTFN; L8R, GR8 (series)

And Tango Makes Three

The Perks of Being A Wallflower

To Kill A Mockingbird

Twilight (series)

Catcher in The Rye

My Sister’s Keeper

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things

The Color Purple

The Chocolate War