In honor of National Library Week, we’re celebrating not just our beloved Free Library and its amazing librarians and staff, but the role of libraries in the 21st century. Chief among these roles is promoting freedom of information, ensuring works of varying viewpoints are accessible to all.
Libraries can open up a diverse world of books and programs for readers of all ages—here at the Free Library, we host more than 25,000 programs each year, including more than 15,000 for preschoolers, children, and teens.
But sometimes, this diverse world of books can cause people to take pause. The American Library Association (ALA) explains that "with the best intentions—to protect others, frequently children, from difficult ideas and information," people—adults—attempt to remove or restrict material from a library or curriculum, based upon the objections of a person or group—better known as a book challenge. The top reasons material tends to be challenged: for being "sexually explicit," containing "offensive language," and being "unsuited to age group."
Today the ALA released the State of America’s Libraries Report, which includes the Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2017, compiled from analysis by the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF). Out of 354 challenges recorded by the OIF, the most challenged books of 2017 were...
Often book challenges occur at the local level, with a group attempting to remove material from the school curriculum or library. Sometimes, such challenges reach higher levels, resulting in court cases and proposed legislation.
In 1982, a complaint to a New York school board about certain books on school library shelves—including Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut and Best Short Stories of Negro Writers—reached the Supreme Court. In Island Trees School District v. Pico, the Court ruled that a public school cannot remove books from the school library because its staff or community members disagree with the content. (The ruling did permit, however, the removal of books with content deemed "inappropriate" for the children of the school, e.g., books with sexual content in an elementary school.)
Yet in 1988, the Supreme Court case Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier upheld school personnel’s right to prohibit school newspaper articles on topics deemed "inappropriate." A bill currently before the Missouri state senate, the Cronkite New Voices Act, seeks to restore students’ First Amendment rights.
The ALA has found that authors of color, as well as books with diverse content, are disproportionately challenged and banned.
Citing sources from John Stuart Mill to Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., the ALA holds a position promoting "the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one's opinions even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular, and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those viewpoints to all who wish to read them."
So this week (and all other weeks, in Library Land), we raise a book to the freedom to seek and express ideas. Read on, Library lovers!