For those unaware, Banned Books Week is an annual event spearheaded by the American Library Association. Banned Books Weeks celebrates the right to read freely, and is often commemorated at colleges and universities with a public reading of banned and/or challenged books. In talking with students about the event, many were surprised to discover that books are still being banned. Of course, the usual suspects (dictatorships, Communist regimes, nations with a high religiosity) account for the majority of book bannings nowadays, but America is not without fault in this tableaux. Parents groups, religious advocacy organizations, and “concerned” citizens have, quite successfully, had books banned at both the local and municipal levels. State and Federal bans seem more-or-less impractical at this point, but books removed from schools and libraries are books that might never find their way into the hands of those who most need them, and so the issue is still one of concern.
With regard to IC, we held a successful Banned Books Week reading on 25/09/2014. The event featured IC students, staff, faculty, and administration reading from a variety of banned and/or challenged books. The readings ranged from more modern selections (including the Da Vinci Code [banned in the Vatican] and Captain Underpants [banned in a whole variety of places]), to more classical works (including The Holy Bible [the most thoroughly banned book in the history of the world] and Candide [banned for scandalizing virtually every member of the French aristocracy during the 18th century]). Though attendance was modest, we managed to get two hours worth of readers, and all enjoyed themselves on a beautiful autumn day.
Having stewarded Banned Books Week events for 30-odd years, we librarians are (perhaps naively) hoping that the idea of banning books is becoming more unpalatable to the world. Google, social media, and the Internet have certainly helped in this regard, but the fact that we’re still holding these events suggests more can be done. What then is the next frontier? Our Circulation Manager, Sarah Snyder, had a pretty sharp idea: Banned Ideas Week. You’d think “banned” ideas wouldn’t exist in a higher education environment, but not so. There are hot-button issues in higher education which, de facto, one simply does not take certain positions on (promotion of intelligent design theory, climate change denialism, the suggestion that genetic factors play a significant role in the formation of racial differences, etc.). There are also topics which are generally avoided for reasons of job security/institutional politics (tenure reform, adminstrative expansion, hiring quotas, etc.). Maybe it’s time we carved out a space for banned ideas as well. Thoughts?