Guest Editorial: Celebrate your freedom to read

Published on Thu, Oct 4, 2012 by Joan Airoldi, director, Whatcom County Library System and Amory Peck, Chair, Whatcom County Library Foundation

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Authors, booksellers, librarians, publishers and journalists are all passionate about books and dedicated to bringing information into the lives of others. For 30 years, these groups have led efforts to celebrate the freedom to read, and these days it does not matter whether you read digitally or on paper, the issues remain.

“Banned Books Week,” which takes place September 30 to October 6, is designed to draw attention to the importance of the freedom to read, to publicize threats to that freedom and to provide information so that the public is aware of the questions and controversies.

Since 1982, there have been more than 10,000 challenges to books in schools and libraries in the U.S. – an average of 500 per year. The reasons behind these challenges come down to opposing points of view; exactly what the First Amendment exists to protect. For centuries, world and local leaders, historians, authors and perhaps you and your neighbors have taken a stand on protecting the freedom to disagree, to allow and to respect free speech. Is it anyone’s work to determine what you should or should not read, what you should or should not think?

At a recent focus group on the future of libraries held at the Point Roberts branch of Whatcom County Library System, one resident said, “The library is where people come to collide.” This is a branch library with very little extra space, so with tongue-in-cheek humor, this could have been a reference to people bumping into each other. However, what it really meant to this participant is that the library is a place where the public can gather for open forums and discussions, to debate and deliberate ideas, to clash in a common pursuit of better understanding and wisdom, where ideas representing all perspectives, value systems and beliefs can be found.

Readers count on librarians, booksellers, educators and journalists to ensure that books and information are openly available for everyone so that uncomfortable and difficult ideas and concepts can be considered and questioned. Your libraries and bookstores hold the rich diversity of our culture and collected knowledge. Clearly, not everyone will embrace all views expressed and all concepts available. Like taking part in a potluck or buffet, tastes differ, but the choices and variety are what matters.

Limiting access to materials commonly happens through a challenge to the material by a group or individual that objects to it and wants to have it removed or restricted for use by others. An item is considered “banned” when it is removed from a library or school as a result of this challenge. Focusing on the challenge or question presents an opportunity for the exact debate that makes our democracy work and makes it strong. Challenges are opportunities for education and better insight for all involved in the dialog and discussion.

If you wish to learn more about book challenges and why this week is recognized and celebrated, visit your local library or bookstore, or read something that you would not normally seek out. For starters, you might try one of these challenged classics:
  • The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
  • The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  • The Color Purple, Alice Walker
  • Ulysses, James Joyce
  • Beloved, Toni Morrison
  • The Lord of the Flies, William Golding
  • 1984, George Orwell
Celebrate your freedom to read September 30 through October 6!

An open house to celebrate the freedom to read, sponsored by the Whatcom County Library Foundation, is being held at the Ferndale Public Library on Saturday, October 6 from 2 to 4 p.m. There will be games and activities, educational displays, prizes, refreshments and fun for the whole family.

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