Every day someone tries to restrict or control what can be said,written, sung, or broadcast through censorship. Almost every idea ever thoughthas proved offensive or worthy of objection to one person or another, and almosteveryone has sometimes felt the world would be a better place if only “soand so” were not around or “such and such” did not exist. Some people deem this censorship necessity, while still others claim thatthese actions impose upon their First Amendment rights. Both sides have somevery worthwhile viewpoints, but lost in the shuffle, unfortunately, is what theFirst Amendment stands for – that each of us are free to decide for ourselveswhat to read and think.
No matter how convinced some may be of the rightness oftheir own views, they are not, however, entitled to impose those views onothers. We all have the right to attempt to convince others of our views, butthat doesn’t imply a right to blindfold or silence others in the process. On the anti-censorship side sits the American Library Association along witha number of other organizations. Part of this group’s attempt to furtherawareness of censorship takes place in the last week in September. This campaignis known as National Banned Book Week.
This is a weeklong propaganda fest andconsciousness-raising extravaganza put on by the American Library Association’sOffice for Intellectual Freedom. The promoters use this week to parade a list ofbooks that they charge have been banned in libraries and schools across America,talk about the importance of First Amendment Rights, and lament the rise ofcensorship from what they consider to be the ill-informed enemies of freedom andAmerican democracy — a group that includes the usual conservatives and, ofcourse, a great number of parents and school officials. First of all, quite a few Americans have serious problems with the sort ofradical libertarianism that the American Library Association (ALA) represents. Amajority of Americans don’t buy into the notion that public libraries should buyanything no matter how pornographic, or that schools should teach anything, nomatter how controversial. Most Americans believe in community standards, andthey stubbornly insist that schools, libraries, and other social institutionsought to support those standards.
Even so, the real difficulty with the AmericanLibrary Association’s Banned Book Week isn’t its philosophy, however a number ofpeople may question the ALA’s anything-goes-approach to building a librarycollection and managing a school’s curriculum. No, the real problem is thedishonesty involved. In my opinion, Banned Book Week isn’t really what it says it is. It isn’t amodel for freedom of speech, but rather the ALA has gone in for some seriousmislabeling here. It has misleadingly categorized the week — a serious chargewhen you remember that librarians are supposed to be accurate catalogers andlabelers of things.
In all honesty, where do censorship and book banning really stand in America?Well, very few — if any — books in this country are currently banned. You canbuy almost any title that you want, download a multitude of information from theWeb if you need to, and you can check out all sorts of things at your publiclibrary. Nor is censorship dangerously on the rise, as the ALA would have youbelieve. The difference between what is true and what the week’s promoters claim stemsfrom their exaggerated notions of what constitutes censorship.
In the eyes ofthe ALA and its Office for Intellectual Freedom, any kind of challenge to a bookmay be considered an effort at banning and any kind of complaint about a titleis called an attempt at unconscionable censorship. For a book to be labeled abanned book in their mind, someone needs only question its place in a givenlibrary’s collection, or