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This Week is Banned Books Week

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on September 28, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019
I never knew a girl who was ruined by a book.

-- James Walker

Nor a boy either, for that matter. Yet even now, people seem to fear this exact thing. Each year, September 25 to October 2 is Banned Books Week in the land of the free. Each year since 1982, The American Library Association (ALA) has sponsored this week as a teaching moment to bring to the attention of all that some censorship, or attempts at censorship, still exist in the libraries and schools of our country.

According to the ALA, the intent of Banned Books Week is to celebrate intellectual freedom and draw attention to "the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books" across the country. Banned Books Week also focuses on the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them.

The room we make under the First Amendment for unpopular speech was a topic for discussion just recently, when the Rev. Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach Church in Gainesville, Florida, threatened to burn the Qur'an. After a public outcry that included the voice of President Obama and the commander of troops in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, the event did not occur. But questions arose about what kind of speech we allow, even if we dislike it.

How do books in a school or community library become "challenged?" The ALA has set out specific procures for its librarians to follow. If a community member wishes to challenge a book or other material, the first step is a "reconsideration or challenge" form for the person challenging the book to fill out. According to the ALA, the form details the book's "selection process which emphasizes intellectual freedom and due process." Upon understanding that process and having a chance to be heard, many people reconsider the challenge at this point.

If this does not resolve the issue, the next step is a meeting of a "reconsideration committee" which, among other things, has each member read or listen to the material in its entirety. The decision of the committee may be appealed in a "challenge hearing" before a school board, a board of trustees, or a city or county board of commissioners or council. At this hearing, much of the community may become involved. It is at this level that the challenge is often resolved. The guiding principle of the entire process should be the constitutional right of due process, according to the ALA.

The ALA has a list of the books that comprise the Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century. Many of these great classics have been challenged or banned. Some of the threatened titles include: Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, The Call of the Wild and many, many more. How many of these books made up your high school reading list and how much poorer would those years have been without them?

As parents fight TV, the Internet, Wii, and iEverything for reading time for their kids, isn't taking books away the last thing we should do?

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