Friday, September 30, 2011

TGIF, or My Thoughts on Banning Books

This week's TGIF question is:  

Banned Books: How do you feel about the censorship of the freedom to read? Do you think the education system needs to be more strict on what children are exposed to in books?

Just so you know, this will be a long post. I bolded the big ideas.

Earlier this week I posted on twitter that banning books didn't bother me because parents can expose their children to whatever material they want to. They don't need to be limited by what's taught in school or available at the library. And a couple of people brought up the point that not every family can afford to buy books that aren't available publicly. And it really bothers me to think that young people might be kept from books or ideas that could inspire them, just because they didn't have the money. I'm still not sure what to make of that, but.... 

I've had mixed experiences with banned books when I was in school. Most I've had absolutely no problem with, but there was one book that really made me uncomfortable. And honestly, I don't remember it being the content so much as the way the material was presented and discussed in class. But I will always remember that feeling of dreading going to my English class, slouching my chair so I wouldn't be called on to read, and being very happy when that unit was over.

Of course, you don't need a book that's been banned to cause that kind of response in a student. With everything that young people face, it's impossible for teachers to predict how each person in their class will respond to material. I think that's why both sides in the banning debate will agree that parents should be allowed to veto books they don't think will work for their child. But a lot of people on the anti-banning side argue that one parent shouldn't have that ability to limit books for all students.

But I don't really agree with that. Because there are already individuals making those decisions for all students/patrons.  There's only so much money for public schools and libraries. There's no possible way that every book can be available publicly to every person. Someone has to decide how to use a school or library's limited resources. And it seems like the vast majority of people don't know who those people are. I go to my public library at least weekly, and I have no clue who (or how) they decide which books to acquire.

My library doesn't carry any books by Megan McCafferty (of Bumped and the Jessica Darling series fame). The John Green books are housed with the adult fiction, not the young adult. Is that because of content? I don't know. Who decided that? Again, no clue. If someone thought the library was carrying an inappropriate book, who would they talk to? I think you already know that I don't know the answer to that.

While I probably wouldn't ever try to remove a book from a school or library, I'm totally fine with other people wanting to do that. Schools and libraries are funded publicly (i.e. by taxes), so I'm ok with people who contribute financially wanting to have a say in how that money is spent. What if someone genuinely thought the limited funds should not go towards media they thought was offensive? They should just go with it, in the name of free speech? Free speech is so important in this country, but so is representation with taxation.

In the end, I have many thoughts and few answers. But I'm now curious how my library decides what books to buy. Maybe I'll have to ask around the next time I'm there.


  1. I don't necessarily have a problem with banning either - so long as there is a concern raised and it's not just an arbitrary "oh, let's pull & block that one, that one, and that one looks good too" ((kinda like weeding, I just do NOT understand the way some people weed collections, haha)). But if there's been a valid concern raised? No problem taking the book out of collection. Especially for public and school libraries - I mean, we're trying to provide a service for the PUBLIC (which is, kinda you know, who supports the institution), and the main focus should be on making sure there's as good a collection of resources for users as possible. We want people to feel comfortable coming in and using our collections. If that means we take the time to listen to a parent/patron/whomever who has a concern about a book -- and then does something to help alleviate that concern? Much better for the library in the long run.

    I've been on the end of reading a book that was like "WHOA. NO. WAY" in elementary school, and my Mum went to the librarian - who was NOT receptive at all. (She was just cranky anyway, and didn't let me check out chapter books until I was in 3rd grade, sheesh!) But there was a legitimate concern, and my Mum was not alone. Eventually, someone else stepped in (Principal maybe?) and the book was removed.

    I think the problem with banning stems more from the way it's done than the act itself.

    Sorry this is long :o)

  2. This is a very honest, intelligent post and it also made me think a bit about the whole idea of banned books. Very well said and I enjoyed reading it :)

  3. The important thing is having the thoughts..not all the answers. I agree completely that if tax dollars are being spent we should all have a say in what should be funded and what shouldn't...whether that say is indirect in the form of electing officials or direct in the form of trying to get on a library's board or whatever group makes decisions about what books to add to the collection!

    OK, you made me think about the question even more! LOL

    For that I've decided to follow you to see what else you may have to say!:)

    My Friday Memes

    ♥ Melissa @ Melissa's Eclectic Bookshelf

  4. While I don't agree with you for the most part, I really enjoyed reading your post. It was very honest and I loved that you admitted you don't have all the answers. Neither do I (even though I think I do sometimes, lol). And, I can accept your viewpoint without any hard feelings because of how well thought out it is.

  5. I'm ok with banning. I believe it's a parents choice.

  6. Rebecca, thanks for your comment! I think people who had experiences being uncomfortable are the most ok with having schools/libraries be more selective.

    Alexa, thank you. I was afraid for the comments I thought I'd get on this one. Everyone has been so respectful and nice. :)

    Melissa, thanks! I'll be sure to stop by and read your thoughts on this one, too.

  7. Thanks Jenni! I knew we didn't totally agree on this one, although I agree with your post that parents can use controversial books as a discussion point. I don't think the banners should necessarily also "win" but I hope people will always have a chance to share their opinion, even when other people think it's close-minded.

    Juju, thanks. I think parents should have a say, too. I hope I always make the effort when my kids are in school.

  8. I noticed the library doesn't have any Megan McCafferty too, which I thought was weird since she's so popular.

    I liked your argument that representation with taxation is just as important. I never thought of that before. My usual knee-jerk response is to oppose book banning, but your post definitely made me think!