Applications are open for the Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF) Banned Books Weeks Grants offered through the Judith F. Krug Memorial Fund.
Each year FTRF distributes grants to non-profit organizations to support activities that raise awareness of intellectual freedom and censorship issues during the annual Banned Books Weeks celebration (Sept. 24 – 30, 2017.) Staff at all types of libraries, schools, universities, and community organizations are encouraged to apply. Grants are awarded at two levels, $1,000 and $2,500.
Banned Books Week has come and gone – and we are looking forward to next year! But the issue of censorship regarding the books that young people are able to read continue all year long. This great article from boingboing.net shares that, “Some of the most frequently challenged books are the very books that young readers say are especially important and meaningful to them.”
Adults tend to worry about kids being exposed to ideas or beliefs that differ from their own. They also worry about allowing young people access to books that feature content such as sexuality, racial and ethnicity issues, violence, drugs, body image, and more. However, as the article claims, this controversial content can actually help kids and young people learn, empathize, and grow.
The authors of the article contacted eight writers including Lois Lowry, Chris Crutcher, and Rainbow Rowell to see if they would be willing to share messages they have received from young readers detailing the positive effects that have come from reading their often challenged books.
Read the article to see all of the responses, but some repeating themes are that young people feel less isolated, feel more connected to friends or family that may be facing challenges, are able to find the strength to remove themselves from harmful situations, and to begin to find a sense of self-acceptance.
While well-meaning (hopefully) adults may challenge books that feature tough issues like self-harm, abuse, and addiction, the young people that read these books are generally all too aware of these same issues already. Reading these books can help them not only work through and make sense of the issues, but show that they aren’t the only ones dealing with them.
As we wrap up our look at assorted Freedom to Read topics, let’s talk about the chilling effect that can happen to collection development in the face of book challenges.
This is the unspoken side of book challenges: the increased reluctance on the part of a librarian to push the boundaries of what may be deemed acceptable when buying books. That balance between assembling a good and balanced collection and avoiding potential challenges can be difficult to master. It can be very tempting to just avoid buying the latest challenged book, or to develop a collection of books that may be challenged, when a librarian wants to avoid controversy.
Everyone needs to think about the basics of their library’s collection development, and think consciously about overcoming a reluctance to work through a challenge process. Look back to our Banned Book Week Series entry #3, and work through some of the processes given to write up a good policy for your library to incorporate to respond to challenges in a professional way. Having that policy in place, and ready to be shared with Boards, patrons, and other concerned stakeholders, gives some security in engaging in a discussion on controversial materials.
School Library Journal published an article on a study of school librarians: SLJ: Self Censorship Survey. Although this article is now a few years old, there is no reason to believe things are different; and the information presented gives a new dimension to thinking about collection development of potentially controversial materials.
As you build a collection, and include materials that may be controversial for any number of reasons, think carefully before excluding items on that basis. Although the potential conflict of a challenge is not pleasant for the librarian or patron, the discussion can be valuable and the process can help to educate everyone involved on Freedom to Read policies and ideas. These are the bedrock of our profession, so do not give them up lightly!
As librarians, we spend all day sharing information with our patrons. Therefore, it can be beneficial during this Banned Book Week to look back at some of the most challenged materials over a broader span of time than discussed in our previous post in this series about the materials challenged in 2015. I like to be very deliberate in seeking these books out to read, so I understand why there may be concerns, and so I am better prepared to discuss the content of a book in a challenge situation.
This is a list of the 100 most challenged books from 2000-2009, as complied by the ALA. Of course, a list like this can not be entirely accurate: many challenges go unreported, or may not rise to the level of a full challenge but still provide concerns for patrons. But it does give us some ideas about the types of materials that get challenged, and we can see some trends in consistently challenged books.
1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
11. Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
12. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
13. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
15. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
16. Forever, by Judy Blume
17. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
18. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
19. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
20. King and King, by Linda de Haan
And here is the ALA’s list of the 100 most challenged books from 1990-1999. I am copying in the top 20 from each list; and when you click on the links you can see all 100. You will see several books that are consistently on the list, and several authors who write in areas of sensitive material and appear regularly on these lists.
Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
Daddy’s Roommate, by Michael Willhoite
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
Forever, by Judy Blume
Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
Heather Has Two Mommies, by Leslea Newman
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
The Giver, by Lois Lowry
My Brother Sam is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
Alice (series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Goosebumps (series), by R.L. Stine
A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
Sex, by Madonna
Earth’s Children (series), by Jean M. Auel
The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson
Some of these books are not popular anymore, or too dated to be of interest to today’s school-aged readers. But some carry on as significant enough to continue reading. And many of the books in both lists appear there after some national publicity of challenges – which may have caused other challenges in other places to occur.
A troubling trend in book challenges, beyond just their existence, is the increased number of challenges over materials about diverse content from the ALA, or books written by authors of color. Read through that second link, which is a blog post by Malinda Lo – one of the creators of the blog Diversity in YA. She looks at a lot of perspectives on publication of authors of color and books with diverse content, complete with charts to make her points visual. Although the authors have ceased contributing new content, looking back through their archives gives some interesting insights into this issue. Censorship, or book banning, is not always an overt process; and we will explore that topic further in the fifth post in our series this week.
As with everything we do in libraries, there is a lot to consider and a lot to balance. We serve the needs of our communities with their diverse interests and needs; and we also serve the library profession. A strong collection development policy, with a lot of discussion in the library among staff and with the community about rationale for different collection items, will be the best way to ensure communication happens when conflict occurs. You can not stop conflict, but you can plan for it and be ready to address it in a professional way.
When a patron comes to your library, upset about a book or some of your materials – are you prepared with an answer? It can be hard for you to respond quickly unless you have a policy and are comfortable with the procedure for working with patrons who challenge your materials. Fortunately, in our profession, we have several resources available to help you to respond well to patrons!
As a profession, one of our core values is Intellectual Freedom. “We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources. ALA Policy Manual, B.9.16 (Old Number 54.16) ( ALA Code of Ethics, Article II)” We believe in providing information to the community, and letting them make choices about their consumption of it. In our Code of Ethics from the American Library Association, this same sentence is Statement Two. Our profession believes in protecting people’s right to choose material, not to restrict it.
Your library needs a policy for this issue, and also to have some training for everyone on their role in challenges. A patron may come to anyone in the building to start a challenge, so everyone needs to know how to either proceed with it or who to pass the patron to for better assistance.
All types of libraries can receive challenges to their materials, so everyone needs to be ready to respond in the best way. The ALA has a set of strategies here, for any library to use in preparing a policy and starting some staff training. There are good tips on effective communication styles, both for the patron in person and when dealing with the media.
It is important to take seriously the concerns community members bring to your attention. Creating and following a procedure can help to assure patrons that you are respecting their rights to share their opinions and to voice their concerns.
As you begin to write your policy, or to do the regular edits necessary for policies, you may find this information helpful from the ALA. They discuss some justification for having a policy, then help you to walk through the basic format of a policy with information you may want to include. Every library is different in focus and in the community it serves; so all policies will need to have different language and information to make them fit your needs. If you have a challenge hearing, some steps on the procedure are given to be sure you are thinking through this process before a need for it arises.
While each library is different, it can be helpful for you to look at the policies other libraries have created. These are often included with their Collection Development polices, as potentially controversial materials are not collected just to be controversial, but because they are adding to the overall collection. Here is an example from the Pikes Peak Library District. This site gives you some specific information on collection development, including sample policies, for school libraries. And here is a Prezi presentation on reconsideration of library materials policies for school libraries. Here is a policy from the University of South Carolina; scroll down to the “Intellectual Freedom” section for the challenged material sample.
Part of your process may include education for your community on the rationale for including controversial materials in your collection. This is some material from the National Council of English Teachers, discussing some reasoning for teaching challenged materials. There are also other links on this page to give you some information and ideas about providing materials that may be challenged.
Handling a materials challenge can be hard: you want to do the right thing for the patron, for your library, and for the profession. It is a lot to balance! But you do not have to do it alone. The resources from the ALA are here, and there are more on these sites linked above. And the CMLE is available to help member libraries as you create and revise policies, or to help with training for your staff to help everyone feel more comfortable with this topic – and ready to handle challenges well!