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.
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.
People 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: firstname.lastname@example.org.