Much to the objection of bibliophiles everywhere, books criticized for tackling issues such as violence and drug addiction or derided for being racially intolerant or just downright filthy have been removed from library bookshelves across the country going back decades.
Thirty years ago, book lovers started fighting back with the annual Banned Books Week, which has rallied librarians, booksellers, authors and teachers alike to defend the freedom to read a variety of books, including many that have won awards for excellence in literature and illustration.
The anti-censorship sentiments have been embraced by LSU libraries, which runs its own Banned Books Week event every year. This year’s exhibit runs from Sunday through Oct. 31 and shares the “30 years of Liberating Literature” theme with the national event.
Peggy P. Chalaron, head of LSU’s Education Resource Center, has been involved in the university’s anti-censorship efforts going back 20 years.
She said she got her first taste of censorship in 1950s St. Tammany Parish when a librarian prevented her from checking out a book that was deemed inappropriate for someone her age.
After going back to the library with a note from her mother, Chalaron said, she was allowed to read the book, but the memory stuck with her.
So, next week at LSU, students can walk through library doors draped in sarcastic yellow caution tape and walk past “Beware of the book” signs to see the exhibit featuring many of the books that have been challenged and sometimes banned in libraries around the country and in Louisiana.
Some of the books challenged or banned include: “To Kill a Mockingbird” for its racial themes; “Of Mice and Men” for it’s “indecency”; “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” for being racially offensive; “The Color Purple” for being “troubling”; “Catcher in the Rye” for being “filthy”; and the entire Harry Potter series for promoting magic and witchcraft.
In Louisiana, “Black Hawk Down” was removed from a classroom in 2008 for its profanity, while “Little House on the Prairie” was taken off some school bookshelves for being offensive to Native Americans, and “A Lesson Before Dying” by Louisiana author Ernest Gaines was removed from a school for what the challenger called “clashing with its “Christian values.”
“Not every book is right for all people,” Chalaron acknowledged Tuesday, “but one person who challenges a book should not be able to decide for an entire community.”
Private institutions, however, should have the leeway to ban books as they please, she said.
Typically when a book is challenged at a library, a person need only fill out a form to have the book taken off the shelf, Chalaron explained. A library committee compares the challenge to the library’s collection policy and then decides whether the book should be banned or returned to the shelves.
Between 2000 and 2009, American libraries handled 4,312 requests to remove books from collections, including 326 last year, according to the American Library Association. Deborah Caldwell-Stone, an assistant director of the ALA, said banning books is a constitutional issue.
“If the First Amendment tells us anything, we should be free to read and access ideas without anyone interfering,” she said.
Call (225) 578-2349 or (225) 578-5652 or visit http://www.lib.lsu.edu for LSU’s Banned Book Week exhibit hours.