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Back to November Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 286 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS NOVEMBER 2009

Libraries Celebrate 'Banned Books' Week
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This year, the American Library Association (ALA) and cosponsors celebrated Banned Books Week with an inflammatory manifesto: "To you zealots and bigots and false patriots who live in fear of discourse. You screamers and banners and burners. . . ." Events and displays at libraries across the nation used the manifesto and other ALA materials to "draw attention to the problem of censorship."

ALA drums up its "banned books" numbers by crying "censorship" when library patrons and public school parents merely complain about books. The group's online "censorship map" plots 186 cases of supposed censorship nationwide between 2007 and 2009, but in only 10% of those cases was a book actually removed from a library. Writing in the Wall Street Journal (9-25-09), Mitchell Muncy of the Institute for American Values notes the difficulty of reconciling any reasonable definition of "censorship" with cases like these in which "ordinary people [lodge] complaints with school and library authorities." Such incidents are better described, according to Muncy, as "petitioning the government for a redress of grievances."

80% of the challenges to books and all but one of the book removals took place at schools. Every other case of challenges to books on the "censorship map" dealt with books available in the youth or children's section of public libraries. This means that the "bigots" and "burners" the ALA Manifesto derides are in zero cases concerned with what any adult reads or accesses. Rather, these supposed book "banners" are ordinary parents who only want to limit their own children's exposure to material they consider harmful or obscene.

"There's something odd about a national organization with a $54 million budget and 67,000 members reacting so zealously against a few unorganized, law-abiding parents," writes Muncy. "Is Banned Books Week a celebration of free speech, or is it a way for government employees to bully ordinary citizens by stigmatizing those who complain ('bigots,' 'false patriots,' 'screamers,' 'burners')? They clearly hope future challenges simply won't be brought. Does that make Banned Books Week an attempt at prior restraint on speech by the government — an act of censorship?"


 
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