Bookish Questions: Firsthand Censorship?

BookishQuestionCensorship

Our first step is to define censorship, other than the obvious editing of your own work, I would include prevention of others from reading a particular work for any reason. The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom offers the following definitions when attempting to challenge the appropriateness of literature from public consumption:

Expression of Concern. An inquiry that has judgmental overtones.

Oral Complaint. An oral challenge to the presence and/or appropriateness of the material in question.

Written Complaint. A formal, written complaint filed with the institution (library, school, etc.), challenging the presence and/or appropriateness of specific material.

Public Attack. A publicly disseminated statement challenging the value of the material, presented to the media and/or others outside the institutional organization in order to gain public support for further action.

Censorship. A change in the access status of material, based on the content of the work and made by a governing authority or its representatives. Such changes include exclusion, restriction, removal, or age/grade level changes.

Growing up in a rural southern town, this was completely rampant. My school and public library system both edited what they felt was appropriate content, not just for students, but for the adult public as well.

Anything dealing with “sensitive” topics like gender issues, sexual orientation, race, scientific theory on any topic which would contradict religious doctrine, and religions other than Christianity were all excluded from the shelves. No books from the northern perspective for the Civil War were included. We also had an edited reading list for literature, and books discussing reproductive health and venereal diseases fell under vulgar content, and an abstinence only program was put in it’s place.

withoutlibraries
The only example I vividly remember is that the Harry Potter series was published when I was in 9th grade, and was excluded even after it became wildly popular, because it dealt with witchcraft and “un-Christian values.”

Growing up very poor, I couldn’t purchase the books I wanted for two reasons: they don’t give the books away just because you want them, and most of the local bookstores wouldn’t have stocked them anyway (for the same reasons the public library didn’t carry them).

This wasn’t localized to my little town or when I grew up, my husband was raised about 45 minutes away from Memphis, just across the Arkansas border and remembers that not only did his school ban all dungeon and dragon related books and guides, the local book store chains did as well, so you couldn’t even order it if you actually had the money to do so. To give you perspective, I graduated in 2000, and only a few families in my area had home computers, my husband graduated in 1993, so neither of us had an option to purchase the books online.

bannedbooksbradburyquotePeople act as if banned books and active censorship are a thing of the past and at this point we are simply celebrating how liberated we’ve become but we still have so much work to do. We SHOULD celebrate how far we’ve come but we also need to recognize that many of these issues are STILL A PROBLEM. This year marks the 34th year of the protection of readers rights, and we need to continue the momentum.

See the “Celebrating the Liberation of Literature” interactive banned book timeline HERE

Have you ever not been able to read a book because it wasn’t available? Did you have books you couldn’t read in high school or college because they were deemed inappropriate? Did you read these books anyway? 

Not sure where to go if you’ve answered yes to the questions above? For assistance with challenges to library materials, services, or programs, please contact Kristin Pekoll at the Office for Intellectual Freedom, 800-545-2433, ext. 4221, or via email: kpekoll@ala.org.

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5 thoughts on “Bookish Questions: Firsthand Censorship?

    1. I only recently realized that! It made sense to delay for a translation, since that takes time, but I always all English speaking countries had the release dates scheduled more closely. One of my German friends typically purchases English copies because waiting for German editions takes too long.

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      1. Yeah, I know. I thought England, Australia and Canada had similar release dates since they didn’t have to translate from one language to another.

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  1. Great post! I think it’s really important that you wrote this because I agree censorship is still a massive problem.
    Unfortunately I experienced censorship when I went to a religious school- the librarian would periodically go through the books in the library and censor them for sexual content. And even the science textbooks would have pages blanked out! One physics teacher I had was so religious she would refuse to teach facts based on her beliefs :/ (to be honest none of these forms of censorship were terribly effective- but I still think it’s fundamentally wrong that they did it).
    One thing I will say though is that censorship doesn’t seem to just be a problem for the right and religious societies now. Systemic censorship is now a problem with the far left (or “regressive left” to use Maajid Nawaz’s term). Persistent attempts to condemn and stop freedom of speech are actually stifling debate and causing more problems than solutions. Sorry for rambling, I just think it’s really important to draw attention to these issues. Any form of censorship is problematic

    Liked by 1 person

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