Indian librarian SR Ranganathan devised five laws, or rules, for libraries. Its second rule states: “Each reader his book” and its third rule states: “Each book its reader. In these statements, it is clear that the way a reader interacts with a book will be different; therefore, it is necessary for a library to provide access to various thoughts and ideas.
The freedom to read and access to knowledge are the ideals and the very foundation on which the First Amendment to our Constitution rests. When citizens seek to limit these freedoms by challenging or banning books, even in schools, they do so in the name of censorship. The possibility of choosing reading material yourself is a personal freedom that should not be denied.
The United States Supreme Court, in its 1985 decision in Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico, concluded that “local school boards cannot remove books from school library shelves just because they don’t like the ideas in those books” and that “school officials cannot remove books in school libraries with the aim of restricting access to political ideas or social perspectives discussed in the books, when this action is motivated simply by the disapproval of those responsible for the ideas in question. Further, using Pico as a guide, the Federal Case v. Unified School District No. 233 found that a school board’s removal of a book from the school library violated the “constitutional rights of US First Amendment plaintiffs.” Constitution.”
The American Library Association Bill of Rights contains seven articles outlining the rights of libraries and individuals. Articles two, three and four focus specifically on accessing documents from opposing viewpoints. The Library Association states that these documents should not be removed due to objections from those who may disagree with the stated perspective. In addition, libraries must defy censorship and protect the “restriction of freedom of expression”. The Education and Information Literacy Association’s interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights states that libraries “encourage education and lifelong learning by promoting freedom of expression and facilitating the exchange of information. ‘ideas between users ”and,“ In their role as educators, library workers create an environment that nurtures intellectual freedom.
When a community challenges a book, it seeks to censor that perspective and silence that voice. In doing so, community members also silence the thoughts, ideas and conversations inspired by that particular work.
Closing windows and doors
Of the top 10 contested books in 2020, half were written by authors of color. Two of the titles on the list were written by award-winning author Jason Reynolds, who is the current Library of Congress national ambassador for children’s literature. In 2019, the majority of contested headlines were due to LGBTQ content. The danger here is that the contested voices are those that are already marginalized in our communities. Recent challenges in the Central York School District and Warwick School District underscore this fact. By seeking to censor their stories, we are asserting that those stories don’t matter – or worse yet, are dangerous. What message does this send to the people in the community who most identify with these titles?
In her article, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors,” literary scholar Rudine Sims Bishop, professor emeritus at Ohio State University, uses these terms to illustrate how books help readers identify or understand human experience. These windows allow us to see into another world that we might not otherwise understand. This in turn allows us to sympathize with “the other”, the one whose life may be very different from ours. The mirrors reflect to show us the world around us, “to hold as if the mirror were facing nature: to show virtue its line, to despise its own image, and the age and the body even of the time its form. and its pressure, ”to quote the contested and banned playwright William Shakespeare.
The danger of challenging and censoring books, especially in schools, is: where does it end? If, as individuals, we were to ban all the books we don’t like or oppose, what would be left in our school libraries?
Roles of parents, teachers and librarians
The list of titles that have been challenged or banned is long and includes beloved children’s books, cherished classics, and revered sacred texts. The headlines include: “Where’s Waldo? “By Martin Handford,” Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? “By Bill Martin Jr.”, “The Lorax” by Dr Seuss, “A Light in the Attic” by Shel Silverstein, the Bible, the “Harry Potter” series by JK Rowling, “Romeo and Juliet” by Shakespeare, “Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl ”and“ Charlotte’s Web ”by EB White. This is only a small sample and shows that even harmless children’s books are considered objectionable by some.
This is not to say that families and parents should not discuss the literature their children read. The advice and influence of parents should be honored, as it is the right of families to instill their deeply held values and beliefs. Parents have a responsibility to know what their children are reading and to determine if the material is appropriate for their children. These same rights must extend to all parents and families in the community. Therefore, schools and libraries need to offer resources and literature that offer multiple perspectives on a topic.
Librarians and educators seek to inspire students to think critically about the world around them, examine ideas, investigate history and solve problems … ultimately, to grow as as individuals and build a better future for all. When censors challenge the books, they seek to undermine this essential process. In some cases, school libraries are the only resource students can have for accessing books and information.
Challenging or censoring books in schools only serves to further isolate the marginalized and create a cohesive society. We live in a place where the acceptance of conflicting ideals has been the foundation of our society. When we challenge the freedom to read in school, we overturn our very first constitutional freedoms, jeopardize free thought, and jeopardize new ideas.
Matthew Good (he / him) is a school librarian and librarian of the Institute of Human Rights Educators. He is an alumnus of the Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Teachers’ Program and a member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Teacher Fellowship (2014-15). He has presented his work at the Pennsylvania School Librarian Association Annual Conference, Millersville University Holocaust and Genocide Conference, and the American Association of School Librarians Conference. He is a member of the Pennsylvania School Library Association, the American Association of School Librarians, and the American Library Association.