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Banned Books Week; Unique prestige bestowed on many well-known authors

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
September 25th, 2006

The Dominion Post, September 25, 2006

 

By Evelyn Ryan

The Dominion Post

Some of the best-known and popular books on library and bookstore shelves also hold the unique honor of being on the list of books some people want censored.

The list ranges from “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain to J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” stories to the popular juvenile series “Captain Underpants” by Dav Pilkey.

Area residents have a chance to learn more about censorship this week at WVU, where librarians are focusing on freedom to read as part of Banned Books Week.

“Banned Books Week holds a great deal of significance for academic and research libraries,” said Sophie Bogdanski, monographs cataloging unit librarian for the WVU Libraries.

 Bogdanski and other library employees will join the discussion by staffing a banned books information booth in the Mountainlair from 11 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. Monday-Friday.

The week celebrates and promotes awareness of the research library’s obligation to collect, preserve and provide access to all material regardless of point of view, she said.

“A balanced nonbiased library collection is the building block of empirical research and academic teaching,” Bogdanski said. “Libraries are the conservationists of man’s opinions, beliefs, actions and experience, as well as discoveries, inventions and understanding.”

Observed since 1982, the annual event reminds Americans not to take the freedom to read for granted.

Local libraries have policies that allow people to challenge books, but staff members can’t recall when they received a complaint about a book.

“As far as I know, we’ve never had any requests to ban books,” Morgantown Public Library board member Loulie Canady said. “quite frankly, I can’t see how anybody can tell you what you can and can’t read.”

There is a form for people to challenge books, said Mary Schmezer, a longtime Morgantown Public Library staff member. She can’t recall any challenges to books.

The library has a policy called “Freedom to read, freedom to view.” It spells out how a challenge is handled. Any book challenged, she said, is reviewed by several staff members, who decide what action to take.

Librarians in the Monongalia County Schools system have a policy they follow if a parent questions books in the school libraries, Assistant Superintendent Donna Talerico said. It’s not a board policy, but one the librarians developed, she said.

“To my knowledge, we’ve never had any books removed from school libraries,” she said. School library books are purchased from approved and recommended book lists, she said.

If a parent or student has a problem with a particular story or chapter in a required textbook, Talerico said, the child is not required to read that. The teacher finds an alternative for that lesson. A look at the 10 most challenged books for 2005 shows only one adult book; the rest are for teens and children. The adult book is “Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger.

The Morgantown Public Library has available a number of the books on the list, including several volumes of the popular children’s series “Captain Underpants”.

This is the 25th anniversary of the American Library Associations’ Banned Books Week event. The Google search engine is highlighting the week with a special Web site, www.google.com/bannedbooks, showcasing award-winning classics that have been challenged.

According to the ALA Web site, the top reasons given for challenging books are that they are sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, contain offensive language, contain occult theme, or promote the occult or Satanism, are violent, promote homosexuality, or promote a religious viewpoint.

Most challenges fail and the materials stay on library shelves, the ALA reports. Info on the Web can be found at www.ala.org/bbooks.

This year, the ALA is inviting visitors to the Web site to vote for their favorite challenged book. Ballots are organized by age group, and list endangered books in the past 25 years.

Since 1990, the ALA has recorded more than 8,700 book challenges from individuals and groups, including 405 known attempts in 2005.

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