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September 25 – October 2 marks America’s annual Banned Books Week.

Every year books are “challenged,” meaning individuals, groups, organizations petition to have them removed from library or school shelves for reasons ranging from indecent language, content deemed inappropriate, criticisms of societal establishments, and so on and so forth.

In the last nine years the ALA (American Library Association) reports that over 4,000 books have been challenged in the United States . 1,500 of these challenged have been in school classrooms, while a further 1,032 have been in school libraries. Conversely only 100 challenges  have been made in college classrooms over the last nine years, and less than 30 challenges in college libraries.

Overwhelming parents are the most frequent challengers of books, with library patrons, and believe it or not administrators following suite.

The most frequent reasons books are challenged are matters of sexually explicit content, or content individuals believe are inappropriate for the average age audience of a particular book.

Content such as violence, religion, the occult, and homosexuality rank high on the reason list as well.

To give you an idea of books that have been either banned or challenged in the past the ALA has composed a list of banned or challenged classics. I’ll simply list the top ten:

1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
6. Ulysses by James Joyce
7. Beloved by Toni Morrison
8. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
9. 1984 by George Orwell
10. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

The Freedom to Read is an important part of our democracy. The freedom to read has to do with freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to satisfy our own intellectual curiosities. It’s important to think for ourselves and decide for ourselves what content is appropriate for us, what lines of thought are acceptable, and where we stand in the world, as intelligent beings. When an individual or group of persons challenges a book they’re not only saying that the item in question is inappropriate, they are saying they know what’s right for you. They’re effectively pushing their standards onto society. It’s unacceptable.

Luckily today most challenged items are spared from banishment. Good places to find books of interest without worry of censorship are academic libraries, like RCC’s with our over 40,000 item collection, and public libraries with strong records of liberal attitudes toward content.

Still, however, sometimes the dark hand of censorship manages to snag a title or two from the stacks. Such is the case in Menifee, California where the Merriam Webster Dictionary (yes, you read that correctly..a dictionary) has been temporarily removed from classrooms thanks to a complaint from a parent whose child discovered the meaning of “oral sex” thanks to Merriam Websters’ vast collection of knowledge. The administration in Menifee is currently contemplating the matter.

Copies of previously banned classics can be found in the stacks of either Warsaw or Glenns.

Keep reading!

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