LSU Manship News Service
BATON ROUGE — This year marks the 30th anniversary of the observance of banned books in America — a celebration of literature and the freedom for one to read what one pleases.
When the phrase “banned books” is uttered, minds may dart to Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” where homes were burned to the ground if books were present. The issue in Louisiana, or anywhere else in American, is far from that severe a level.
“I’ve never banned a book,” said Rebecca Hamilton, Louisiana state librarian. “To get a book truly banned is much harder than you think.” That, however, does not stop periodic challenges to specific books.
Books challenged in Louisiana include “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “A Lesson Before Dying,” “Black Hawk Down” and “Everything You Need to Know About Incest.”
Nationally, recent books most challenged include “The Hunger Games,” “Brave New World” and “To Kill A Mockingbird.”
The reason is because libraries, which she sees as the “gatekeepers to intellectual freedom,” go to great lengths to avoid banning books, Hamilton said.
In most cases, books undergo what librarians call a “challenge” — an attempt to remove or restrict materials based on the objections of an individual or group. Books are usually challenged with the intentions to protect others, frequently children, from difficult ideas and information, notes Hamilton.
Challenges are brought for a variety of reasons, but the most common recorded by the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom are:
The material was considered to be “sexually explicit.”
The material contained “offensive language.”
The material was “unsuited to any age group.”
Usually, when a book formally is challenged with the goal to remove it from the shelves, the library engages its individual review process, says Peggy Chalaron, head librarian of Education Resources at Louisiana State University’s Middleton Library.
The State Library’s process for reviewing books is explained in a document called “Request for Reconsideration of Library Materials.” Following the filing of a form, the head librarian of the entity which houses the book.
The librarian reads, views or listens to the material and investigates the general acceptance of the material by reading outside reviews and consulting recommended lists to determine the extent to which the material fits the library’s selection policy.
Finally, the complainant is informed of the librarian’s action and the rationale behind it no more than 30 days after the challenge is lodged. An appeal of that decision made be lodged with the body that governs the library.
The process is the same at libraries throughout the state except for the LSU libraries, except for LSU, which does not allow the banning of any books because a university’s purpose is to expand the minds of its attendees, Chalaron said.
A library’s purpose is to represent all points of view, Hamilton said. Since public libraries in Louisiana are funded by property taxes paid by citizens, no one individual’s point of view is more important than another’s.
For example, if the state library begins supplying a book by controversial talk show host Rush Limbaugh that has made it on to the best seller list, the library will also offer a book that contains opposite view points to Limbaugh, Hamilton said. The same goes for Christians seeking to ban books on atheism.
“Libraries want aliterate members of society who can think for themselves and make their own decisions of what they want to believe. A skewed point of view would not be good for society in general. There is a potential for things to go bad when you have people skewing a collection for one point of view.”
Banned Books Week
• A Banned Books Week is celebrated annually the last week of September.
• Many challenged books are Caldecott, King, and Newberry Award winners.
• Most challenges come from parents and are filed toward schools, school libraries or public libraries.
• The northeastern region of American receives more book challenges than any other part of the country.
• From 2001 to 2009, American libraries faced 4,312 challenges. Some of the most challenged titles were the “Harry Potter” series, “Of Mice and Men” and “Captain Underpants.”
• Though not a technical banning, the first recorded book burning in the U.S. happened in 1650 when William Pynchon’s “A Meritorious Price of Our Redemption” was ordered destroyed by a court because the religious publication contained “errors and heresies.”
• Other instances of book burning happened in 1956 when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration burned several tons of psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich’s works on his controversial theories of sexual energy, and from 2001 to 2006 when J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” was burned in several church bonfires around America.