Once again, Banned Books Week is here, the Spirit Week for Intellectual Freedom lovers all over the United States. As it is the apparent tradition of this event, the same tortured arguments and responses get trotted out like holiday decorations pulled out of bins that are stored in the basement all year. It is met with all the joy and cheer of people who like to point out the historical inaccuracies of the Christmas story; that Jesus was probably born in the spring, that the tree was adopted from pagan traditions, and that the wise men probably didn’t arrive until Jesus was a toddler. These are probably the same people who saw Linus start his monologue in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and thought, “Oh, it’s time for a bathroom break.”
Yes, there hasn’t been a truly “banned” book in the US in decades. With the advent of the telephone and the internet, no book is truly unavailable to someone who wants to get their hands on it. There are reasonable cases to be made to relocate, re-label, or otherwise withdraw a book from a collection. The objections to subjectively experienced content should not trump over the rights of access to others. It’s about intellectual freedom, the freedom to read, and not marginalizing books because of their content.
And so forth and so on.
While the arguments about what is appropriate (age, content, language, access, etc.) could rage on from now until the next Banned Books Week, I think the one reasonable thing that opposing viewpoints on the issue could agree on is that the debate needs to happen. When a director, school administrator, teacher, or member of the community takes it upon themselves to unilaterally remove a book outside of established challenged material guidelines, all sides suffer from the lack of dialogue. It is the transparency and the rule of policy that allow people to approach the challenged book rationally and objectively. From that, a (hopefully) fair decision can be rendered.
For myself, there has to be a process and a trust in that process for any sort of resolution to be made and feel good about it. I’m less interested in whether a book was kept or removed than as to whether the challenged materials policy or guidelines were followed. In a (hopefully) fair hearing, either side can prevail as it comes to reflect the community that it serves. I have come to terms with the fact that you can’t win every book challenge and have it remain on the shelves, but I’d like to imagine that any decision made to remove a book is community approved.
The Office of Intellectual Freedom at ALA makes it a point to remind people to update their challenged material guidelines (or draft some, if your library doesn’t have any.) And if you get a challenge, be sure to report it to them for their data collection and statistics (they even have a video). Seriously, report it. It matters.
And it’s 2012. Even in a hundred years from now, my greatest fear is that this will still be the same conversation, right down to people being the community’s moral police while others rattle the intellectual freedom bones insisting that all book selections are final. If we as a species are as enlightened and as civilized as we claim to be, then we better start acting like it.