The concept of Banned Books has always been a funny one to me. I grew up and thrived in a household where I was encouraged to dress how I wanted, be who I wanted, think how I wanted, and read what I wanted. No thoughts, ideas, or beliefs were ever off limits; as I long as I practiced the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you), I was free to live my life how I chose
I moved around a lot as child and called many school districts and library branches home. Some more conservative than others, but I was never told what I could or could not read.
I encountered the concept of Banned Books for the first time in fourth grade, when I came across a book that explained on the cover it was a compilation of writers who all had had books banned at some point in their career. At that time in my life, we lived in Ithaca, New York, and a wonderful children’s librarian named June Gilligan briefly explained the concept to me, but told me that I should never let anyone tell me what I could or could not read.
Now years later, I am in my second year of a three year graduate school program at Indiana University. I’m grateful to be receiving a dual degree in Library Science and Information Science from an institution that allows me to develop my own focus on multicultural children’s literature, but I am disappointed that there is little to no discussion about banned books in our classrooms.
As future librarians, it is our duty to share knowledge and information, thoughts and beliefs, stories and tales with our patrons, regardless of whether or not they are widely accepted or on the best-seller list. As librarians we cannot educate children about Banned Books, their history and the important role they play in our culture, if we do not know it ourselves.
Yes, you may know why Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian was challenged, or why Bill Martin Jr.’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? was banned, but can you tell me what effect this had on our culture, library policies and other authors?
Without this information, we are allowing a teachable moment to pass us by, hurting ourselves and our patrons. A Mahatma Gandhi quote is often paraphrased to “be the change you wish to see in the world”. This holds true when it comes to Banned Books education.
The chances of my wish for at the very least a workshop on Banned Books will probably not happen in my Indiana University lifetime, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t take the opportunity to educate myself and others; and neither should you.
Take time to learn more about Banned Books- www.bannedbooksweek.org is a great place to start. Take this week to incorporate Banned Books into your programming too, maybe read Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen at story time, have kids write a postcard saying why their favorite Banned Books shouldn’t be challenged, or start small, and make your staff pick’s collection all Banned and Challenged Books.
Most importantly, don’t let the education stop here. While we honor Banned Books with one week in September, it is important to remember that they are challenged 365 days a year. Therefore, it’s crucial that we continue to educate ourselves, our patrons, and fight for everyone’s right to read throughout the year.
Alyson Feldman-Piltch is a graduate student at Indiana University. When she isn’t reading or working, she can be found cheering for the Red Sox or at the Bonobo exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo. You can follow her on twitter at @aly_fp.
Although she has many favorite Banned Books, she will be posing with Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson for her “Read Banned Books” poster this year.