Library Corner: Are banned books ‘naughty’ books? |

Library Corner: Are banned books ‘naughty’ books?

Jeanie Johnson
Grand County Library District
“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie

Next week, Sept. 23-29, is Banned Books Week, the annual celebration of the freedom to read. The theme of “Banning Books Silences Stories” urges us to speak out against the tide of censorship.

One of my sisters calls inappropriate behavior “naughty.” Can this word be used to determine the suitability of books for readers? I have heard children called naughty for making body sounds, for pointing their finger at someone, for biting, for rolling their eyes, for a teen defiant stance, etc. It appears to me that what is “naughty for one may not be naughty for another.”

The same is true of determining whether or not a book may be appropriate for individual readers. Books are banned (censored) for content such as swear words, vulgar words, sexual explicitness, LGBT issues, and racism. Who determines when the “naughty” or inappropriate line is crossed?

Libraries are champions of the freedom to read and forums for information and ideas. As such, books and other information are provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of everyone the library serves. These ideas are directly applicable to how we develop our collection. It is tough when we purchase an item that goes against our personal value system—but we do it because we serve the community as a whole, not just the people who think like us. Any librarian worth their nametag takes this seriously. We do not purchase items at random or impulse; rather we examine the gaps in our collection, review best-seller lists, read professional reviews, take recommendations from our public and select items that are of high quality. As Sandy Irwin of Durango Public Library says, “We are important stewards of our community’s tax dollars, and curating a quality collection that showcases a variety of viewpoints is vital. A library’s collection should represent the diversity of its community.”

Why not come into one of GCLD’s branch libraries this week and examine the displays and lists of banned books? You will be surprised to see what makes the list. While at the library, choose one of the books on the banned books display or from the list on and stretch your understanding.

Three of my all-time favorite reads are on the 2017 list of the ten most challenged books.

“Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher has resurfaced as a controversial young adult (YA) book after Netflix aired a TV series by the same name. Because it discusses suicide, it is challenged and banned in multiple school libraries.

“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie is not a recently published book either. A National Book Award winner that depicts life on an American Indian reservation with its poverty, alcoholism, and sexuality, this book is often challenged as a part of school curriculums. I used it as a text when I taught a Cultural Collisions class in an Oklahoma high school.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, a Pulitzer Prize winner written over 50 years ago, was challenged and banned because of violence and the use of the N-word. In spite of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the civil rights activism of the late 1960’s, and many recent efforts to affect change, racism is having a field day in our country. This classic is always a good read to help us understand humanity and the dignity of each person.

The other titles on this year’s most challenged list are: “Drama,” by Raina Telgemeier; “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini; “George” by Alex Gino; “Sex is a Funny Word” by Cory Silverberg; “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas; “And Tango Makes Three” by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson; and “I am Jazz” by Jessica Harthel and Jazz Jenning.

We all have a responsibility to choose content for ourselves. But please do not put “naughty” labels on books just because they may make you uncomfortable.

Jeanie Johnson is the director of public services for the Grand County Library District.

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