If you were to visit the Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County (in Ohio) and ask to read their board minutes, you would find my name in there twice. The second time is when I left for a new job and they passed a proclamation in my honor regarding how I had helped to start their YA services program. But the first time . . . well, that was when a patron went all the way to the board to complain about my Banned Books Week display. It was offensive she said because of course we should be censoring books – that’s how we protect our children.
The thing is, I don’t necessarily agree that our children need protecting. I think that they need empowering and equipping. I think that they need the tools to live in this world full of people who are different then them, who think differently then them. That is one of the hallmarks of freedom, intellectual freedom. I think that they need the tools to help them develop empathy and compassion, which is something that story can help us do. Recent research has indicated that reading Harry Potter, for example, makes for very compassionate kids. That’s a good goal.
But more importantly, those very people who want to censor books because they say it is protecting kids, they need to realize that many of our kids are actually living those stories. Those books help give those kids a voice. If we censor their stories, we are sending messages that shame them and keep them silent. But if we read stories of lives that seem almost exactly like theirs – what an empowering moment that can be for them. Story can take that which hides in the dark and shine a light on it.
So when my name appeared in the board minutes at the PLMVKC, you should know that the board made the right call and the Banned Books Week display remained. Because while every librarian supports your right to raise your children as you want, what we don’t support is the right for you to put your personal views and opinions on children that are not your own. One day this summer The Tween came home crying from a friend’s house. You see, she had called and asked if she could watch a movie – a horror movie – and I said no. So instead of choosing another movie, her friends asked her to go sit in the bathroom for an hour or so while they watched it. Instead, she just came home. That’s how this works, I decide for my children and you decide for yours. And that’s why Banned Books Week exists, to remind us all that there are those who would still want to censor books, which is a very bad thing. Because those who control the flow of information can control the world, which is why I – and librarians like me – support intellectual freedom. And intellectual freedom demands that we be willing to allow those books that we might personally find offensive to co-exist with those books that we readily embrace. Because when we talk about censorship our first question should always be: who gets to be the censor? Chances are it’s not going to be you.
So in honor of our freedom to read, here are some previous Banned Books Week posts at TLT: