Tag Archives: library bill of rights

I (and my family) Read Banned Books!

Clip art courtesy of the American Library Association

Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association

This is the time of year that your librarians are getting ready to school you on the fact that there are many books challenged or banned by the public every year, and some of these attempts are even successful at getting books pulled off the shelves of your favorite library. Public, school and higher ed. libraries will be putting up displays on tables, in cases and on websites alerting users to the annual event,  Banned Books Week (September 21-September 27). You may even come across the Library Bill of Rights, which many of you outside the world of librarianship may not even know exists, but which many libraries and librarians ascribe to, which helps in the purchasing of materials, the planning of programs, and is the foundation for this very important week.

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The wonderful thing about the annual Banned Books Week, is that it is an event promoted by librarians around the country who share together in the philosophy of the Library Bill of Rights. This upcoming week provides an opportunity to inform library users that some of their fellow community members find certain reading material objectionable, and that those same community members have taken steps to try and prevent others from reading those materials. The sad fact is that there has been a Banned Books Week year after year for more than three decades, and that there continue to be new books added to the banned and challenged list within our county where “freedom rings.” While this yearly challenging and banning can seem to be a sad statement on how some may try and squash others’ freedoms, I would suggest that we take the opportunity of this upcoming week which celebrates the freedom of information and look at it as a positive thing, a way to discover some new reads and to begin some lively conversations over books and their possible controversial subject matter.

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For professional and personal reasons, I scan the list of banned books every year, looking for those I’ve read.  As a parent, I compare the list with what I’ve seen on the reading lists of my kids and wonder at whether I’m a bad parent or not for allowing my children to have read that particular banned or challenged title. As it turns out I don’t feel bad, in fact I feel proud at having had the opportunity to read a particular book or allowed my children to experience those stories. If anything, especially in terms of children and teen books, these challenges provide an opportunity to have some really important conversations with your children regarding certain subject matters that some might find difficult to talk about, but are often experiences that they or friends they know may have had in their real life.

Obviously, there are some books that include subject matter that may be more appropriate for a  reader depending on their age and experience, and parents should definitely keep that in mind in terms of supervising their own children’s reading habits, but what I think is the most important thing to remember during the upcoming week, and throughout the year, as we all encounter new and challenging books, is that it is an individual’s choice as to what to read, and not something to be dictated by others.


Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association.

Here are some of my favorite Banned Books:

  1. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
  3. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
  4. Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George
  5. Harry Potter(series), by J.K. Rowling

– Maria J.


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Freedom to Read

On Monday night, Sept. 27th, I had the privilege of introducing the Banned Books Week program the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh co-sponsors annually with the Western Pennsylvania chapter of the ACLU.  This national event was the idea of the late Judith Fingeret Krug, a Pittsburgh native who served for many years as the director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, as well as the executive director of the Freedom to Read Foundation.

As I never let an opportunity pass without explaining what it is that librarians do, I spoke briefly about the librarian’s role in the development of library collections.  Librarians choose the collections for libraries.  It is not a simple process of reading reviews, then picking one from column A and three from column B.  It is a thoughtful exercise based on several factors, and most public libraries do it in a very similar fashion.

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has a collection development policy, which is an open document posted on our website that provides the overarching parameters for selection, namely:  “Our collections support the educational, leisure reading and general reference needs of the community.”  The policy also provides a description of our community, historical information about the collection, the diversity of available content and formats, and the criteria we use to select fiction, non-fiction, reference, journals, e-resources and audio-visual formats, etc.

Our website also affirms that the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh subscribes to the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights.  The new 8th edition of the ALA Intellectual Freedom Manual refers to intellectual freedom as an “enduring and all-embracing concept.”   It also states:

The First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution are integral to American librarianship.  They are the basis of the concept librarians call intellectual freedom…which accords to all library users the right to seek and receive information on all subjects from all points of view, without restriction and without having the subject of one’s interest examined or scrutinized by others.

In other words, our librarians learn about, and consider deeply, the collections that they have at hand. In what subject areas are the collections strong? In what areas are they weak? Are classic texts available, or are they missing? What are customers asking for? Are there enough copies to meet the demand for popular items? Do we need to present another point of view on a subject?

Are the materials well-written and produced? Are they also well-made and durable? Are they available in a variety of formats? Can another library supply the item more readily? Will the item be used or just sit there on the shelf? Will the item be provocative or controversial? Will the book clubs love it? Will it be just the book needed to change somebody’s life, that provides humor, perspective, understanding, sympathy, empathy? Will the materials educate, elucidate, edify, enrich, or otherwise entertain?

So many questions to ask! And then comes the hard part: when I was a teen librarian many years ago, I read an article called “Battling the Censor Within,” which described yet another obstacle to collection development. Library workers must ask themselves, does the material under consideration, in language or perspective, challenge our own personal beliefs, political correctness, or popular opinion?

Librarians must remain neutral. I think that, aside from the helping relationships we develop with our customers, it is the most important thing that we do. We choose. We choose smartly. We choose for you.


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