The American Library Association is on a mission this week. The ALA's mission, supported by public and institutional libraries in Vermont and around the nation, states that the freedom to choose and express one's opinions-even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or politically incorrect-are rights protected under the U.S. Constitution.
Banned Books Week, Sept. 25-Oct. 2, is a national celebration acknowledging American's freedom to read. The event was launched in 1982 in response to the number of what the ALA terms "challenges" to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than a thousand books have been challenged since 1982.
This year, a number of public and college libraries around the area are recognizing Banned Book Week. Many librarians are encouraging patrons to check out a banned or challenged book and read it.
According to David Clark, director of the Ilsley Public Library in Middlebury, Banned Books Week is a good time for libraries to elevate public awareness about the ever present threat of censorship.
"The Ilsley Library has set up a display of banned books," said Clark. "We posted yellow 'CAUTION' work-zone flagging tape across our banned books display; this will get the attention of our patrons. I think patrons will be very surprised at books that have been challenged or banned over the years."
Clark mentions banned books written by Mark Twain, James Joyce, Kurt Vonnegut, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Harper Lee, Vladmir Nabokov, Ernest Hemingway, Madonna Louise Ciccone, and others.
Books are often challenged based on sex (Madonna's 1992 coffee-table book "Sex"), race (Helen Bannerman's children's tale "The Story of Little Black Sambo"), religion (Nikos Kazantzaki's "The Last Temptation of Christ" and Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses") and politics (Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" and George Orwell's "1984").
"In just the past month, several library programs around Vermont have focused on reading the Koran, a religious text most recently threatened," Clark said.
Perhaps the greatest misconception regarding challenges to ban books in the U.S. is that only right wingers are behind book bans-not true. Left-wingers, have targeted political pamplets and books for banning, too.
Book challenges occur in every state. People challenge books that they say are either too sexual, too violent or not politically correct. "They may object to profanity, slang, portrayals of ethnic, religious and political stereotypes or positive portrayals of homosexuals," according to the ALA.
According to a recent ALA report on book challenges, 460 challenges were reported to the ALA's Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2009.
In the U.S., Clark noted, children's books probably get the most attention when it comes to content. Books about witches, demons, vampires-such as "Harry Potter" and "Twilight" books-and other creatures of myth and legend are often on parent's minds.
But it may not take a village when it comes to policing community book standards-
"Times have changed. Today, it's really up to parents to monitor what their children are reading," Clark noted. "And one parent, or one group, can't be the judge of what the children of other parents should be reading."
Vermont public libraries haven't had much trouble with banned books, according to Clark. Vermonters appear to be more tolerant of diverse opinions than elsewhere.
Most Vermont libraries strive to keep the shelves stocked with books that are of value to the community-from reference to fiction titles-Clark stressed. But sometimes, works of fiction, even non-fiction, will be offensive to someone.
The freedom to read requires eternal vigilence and engaged readers, librarians, booksellers and elected officials. Thankfully, Vermont is blessed with many citizens who care deeply about the printed word and their right to it.
Check It Out: For an online list of banned and challenged books in the U.S. see: www.ala.org and www.adlerbooks.com/banned.html.
Banned in Brandon... and elsewhere
Below is a sampling of Vermont libraries in our region that are acknowledging Banned Books Week, Sept. 25-Oct. 2. Several other local libraries and bookstores not listed here are also participating. Several high school libraries int he region are also participating in Banned Books Week:
•Rutland Free Library: A display of banned books will be on display inside the main door. ""It's always an eye opener," said Paula J. Baker, director. "Children's books with witches get the most challenges." •Proctor Free Library: Lisa Miser, trustee, said the library is encouraging patrons to read at least one banned book next week. "We're displaying several books on the ALA's banned books list."
•Brandon Free Library: "We have a display and a book discussion about five banned books," said Rebecca Cook, director. "Our banned books are in the front window."
•Sherburne Memorial Library (Killington): Gail Wymouth, director, said a banned book display, "To Kill a Mockingbird" discussion, banned book trivia challenge, and front-lawn political soap box activities are planned this week. "The library has a banned books hay sculpture in our local Hay Festival, Sept. 26."
•Fletcher Memorial Library (Ludlow): Librarian Ginger Calmer said a display of banned books will be on display the the library entrance.
•Whiting Library (Chester): "Our theme is 'Read a banned Book: Take a Risk'," said Karen Morris, director. A display of banned books is included.
•Springfield Town Library: Nancy Tusinski, adult services librarian, said the library's Banned Books Week theme is 'Think for Yourself'. A large display includes mysteriously covered-up books that patrons most expose to read.
•Girogetti Library/College of St. Joseph (Rutland): Doreen McCullough said the Catholic college is not afraid to explore Banned Books Week. A variety of banned books will be on display for students. A banned book quiz will be available. Winners receive a freedom-to-read certificate.