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Do Banned Books Matter?

Submitted by Leo Klein on Sat, 9/29/07 (8:13pm)

bbwweb100x100_2007.gifToday is the first day of Banned Books Week. There are hundreds if not thousands of events happening throughout the nation.

In Chicago we had a Read-Out which mentioned, at least in the report by NPR, the usual suspects ("Catcher in the Rye", "Of Mice and Men" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn").

Censorship (particularly of the state-sponsored variety) is unquestionably one of the clearest attributes of a society out of control. I recognize that. And I'm proud as hell that librarians have taken a leading role in opposing it.

Yet I feel the focus on books is somehow inadequate to the challenge that we're facing.

We have the example of Burma before our very eyes. One of the first moves that the military took in its effort to quell democratic protest, was to pull the Internet.

We've had examples of Google censoring its search results and Yahoo handing over confidential information under extremely questionable circumstances. Even in our own country which is second to none in tolerance and free speech, web pages and other forms of online content have been censored either unintentionally or not.

My point is not to ignore the Books. Rather, it's to argue for including the ever expanding suppression in electronic form as well.

I've said elsewhere that issues of bandwidth and access will increasingly define what we mean by censorship. In order to combat censorship, we need to go where the Censors are. And increasingly, that's online.

2 comments

by Norma on Sun, 10/7/07 (2:28pm)

Books get banned during the selection process; very few from the shelf via complaints from the customers. Librarians are 223:1 liberal to conservative, so guess what doesn't get to the shelf?

by Leo Klein on Sun, 10/7/07 (2:48pm)

Actually the "selection" process consists of trying to figure out whether the book is noteworthy and then whether it's appropriate for your audience.

That's what "selection" is. It has nothing to do with censorship.

As far as this liberal/conservative business is concerned, most library users would probably say there's a fairly good mix.

More often, the complaint has nothing to do with bias but rather that the book they want is either missing or checked out.