Every September, the American Library Association sponsors an event called Banned Books Week. The title may appear self-explanatory, but the importance of Banned Books Week is invaluable to society. Rather than being shunned for the controversy surrounding them, banned and challenged books are displayed as a national celebration of intellectual freedom. This concept, intellectual freedom, is what partially retired English professor Bill Wiles strives to instill in the students he teaches.
Fondly referred to as Mr. Bill, his aptly titled Banned Books class focuses on the reasons censorship exists through analyzing controversial literature. So far students have covered Read Dangerously, Fahrenheit 451, and The Day They Came to Arrest the Book. Another aspect of the course has students creating displays for public libraries during Banned Books Week. Student Ryan Phillips worked with Castleton’s Calvin Coolidge Library, focusing on incorporating books from the course and ones that are often challenged. When asked about his experience through email correspondence, Phillips expressed his enjoyment. “In the end I created a display that I’m very happy with, and proud to call my own. In all of my college courses, I’ve never been assigned anything that’s even similar to this, and so I found it really cool to do,” wrote Phillips. I highly encourage everyone to stop by and check it out! I’ve seen it myself, and it’s brilliantly executed. Overall, Mr. Bill feels the same way about all of the displays students created. Visual applications aren’t the easiest task for everyone, but what his students accomplished contributes to the betterment of society. It’s a great way to get involved with a national event beyond the boundaries of Castleton University.
I now pose the question, who challenges books? An illustration by the ALA (below) shows what percentage of the population initiates book challenges. 39% are parents. The rest are patrons, boards/administrations, political and religious groups, and libraries/teachers. Surprisingly, only one percent are students. What story does the data tell? First, because the highest number is parents, their reasoning probably has to do with material age appropriateness. In other words, what should children read and when? For colleges, libraries have fewer restrictions imposed upon them because their students are adults. In middle and elementary schools, it’s a tricky balance between satisfying parents and teaching children about real-world concepts.
“But society doesn’t move forward if current ideas aren’t challenged as society evolves. So read dangerously. Contemplate subjects that push you out of your comfort zone.“
As far as the other groups go, I could write a full-length essay on a slew of reasons they might have for challenging books. But an essay doesn’t make a reader-friendly blog post. Instead, I propose one simple argument. The ideas of challenged books clash with their own beliefs. They are afraid of change. Yes, change is scary. But society doesn’t move forward if current ideas aren’t challenged as society evolves. So read dangerously. Contemplate subjects that push you out of your comfort zone. That is my message. Celebrate Banned Books Week for recognizing the need to address societal imperfections.