Banned books commemoration week turns 30

Elika Roohi/Sun Star Editor-in-Chief
October 2, 2012

This week is the 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week, a week commemorated mostly by librarians and bookworms, but one that everyone should spend some time thinking about.

Chances are, if you’ve passed a high school English class, you’ve read a banned book.  Challenged classics include such time-honored titles as ‘The Great Gatsby,’ ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’

Karen Jensen is the collection development officer at the Rasmuson Library, and she’s happy to tell her library patrons that her shelves are stocked with banned books.  According to Jensen, in an academic library books don’t get challenged that often.

It does happen, however.  Last spring, a student wanted the book ‘Of Pandas and People’ moved from the biosciences library down to the main collection.  ‘Of Pandas and People’ is a somewhat controversial book, because it presents a creationist argument and challenges the theory of evolution.  The student thought it had no place on the shelves of the biosciences library.

However, Jensen refused.  Having the book in the biosciences library was almost more important, Jensen said, because that’s where the other books about evolution are.

A librarian should aim to represent all the points of view on their shelves, and that’s what Jensen is trying to do.  “We have ‘Mein Kompf’ in our collection,” Jensen said.  “I’m not a fan of Hitler.  Most people aren’t.” But Jensen keeps ‘Mein Kompf’ on the shelf anyway.

Being a banned author isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ was challenged off library shelves while Mark Twain was still alive, and he was ecstatic.  The attention that comes with labeling something as off-limits usually means that everyone wants to get their hands on it.  Today, Huck Finn is still banned consistently and still one of the most widely read books out there.

Books aren’t the only things have have been getting questioned in libraries and schools lately.  Starting last year, Banned Books Week set aside a specific day to commemorate banned websites. This year Banned Websites Awareness Day falls on Wednesday, Oct. 3.  Banned websites have been on the radar of librarians for years because of overly restrictive schools blocking legitimate, educational websites and academically useful social networking sites.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough School district just added Wikipedia to their list of websites students are blocked from accessing at school.  This is in an effort to meet requirements of the Child Internet Protection Act.  Since a few pages of Wikipedia have questionable content, the entire site is blocked for students at school.

As a journalism student, I err on the side of thinking every piece of writing should be available to to every person who wants it.  When people challenge books in libraries and in schools, it’s a form of censorship.  It’s someone deciding what ideas are right and which ones are wrong.

But this fall, a man under the name of Sam Bacile duped a crew into filming a movie, brought in separate actors to read random words and names and then put everything together to produce ‘The Innocence of the Muslims,’ a horribly offensive movie that has incited riots in parts of the world.  Both YouTube and Google have made the video inaccessible in certain countries.

This is censorship, but perhaps rightfully so.  When a film or a book has the power to incite violence, should it still be widely available?

Luckily, UAF students have access to a well stocked library.  Typically, Jensen puts together a display for Banned Books Week, but due to budget cuts there will only be a poster this year.  Interested students can also stop by the library and peruse this year’s anthology of banned books that includes where and why specific books were challenged.   After all, according to Jensen, “Banned books lists make good reading lists.”

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *