We celebrate the right to read. In the Children’s Room this week, you will find a large display highlighting Banned Books Week and bringing attention to the many children’s books that are challenged or banned in the U.S.
We take this week each year to bring attention to the distressing truth that librarians and teachers across this country are asked to remove books from shelves because someone didn’t like what they read. When someone tries to remove a book from access, that is a challenge. When they succeed, that is what the American Library Association defines as banning a book.
Maybe the book that is being challenged had offensive language. Maybe it was seen as unsuitable for the age group that it was available to. Maybe it was violent, or contained sexuality, or depicted homosexuality. There are a lot of reasons why books are banned or challenged in the U.S. Often, these efforts are defeated. But all too often, they succeed — and books disappear from classrooms, school libraries, public libraries, college classes, even academic libraries.
As librarians, we believe it is the right of the individual to choose what to read and what not to read. That is called intellectual freedom, and it comprises one of the essential components of a thriving democracy and an informed citizenry. Even if what is being read is offensive or disagreeable.
The American Library Association (ALA) defines Intellectual Freedom as: “the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored.”
We champion strong opinions and we wholeheartedly say: If you don’t like a book, don’t read it. You are free to dislike a book as much as you want, and express that dislike wholeheartedly. But that doesn’t mean you can stop other people from reading it. That’s a violation of intellectual freedom.
Children deserve intellectual freedom, too.
According to the American Library Association, 40 percent of the challenges to books in the U.S. come from parents. Parents care about what their children are reading. Of course! As parents ourselves, we care about what our own kids read. Parents should be involved in their children’s developing literacy, and we strongly encourage you to read what your kids are reading. But deciding what your own child reads — and what another person’s child reads — are two different things.
We also want to urge parents: Trust your children in their exploration of books and reading. Allow your kids to read broadly and diversely. Allow them to pursue their interests. Read the books your children are reading and talk to them about it. Start a family book group!
Our City Librarian Anji Brenner once wrote about Banned Books Week for this blog. What she said then still holds true today: “Fortunately, in Mill Valley, we’ve had very few instances — few and far between — of censorship on the order of banned books, something that continues to happen all too often elsewhere in the country. What isn’t so rare here is the more insidious version, perhaps just as destructive, in which well-intended parents interfere with the critical choice-making process of their children. Like anything else, choice is a skill, and it needs to be learned — by making choices.”
Books open the world to your children. Allow them to step through that door and become global citizens. Reading diversely makes our children more empathetic, informed, and self-aware. Reading for pleasure — even reading formulaic chapter books or comic books over and over and over and over — builds a foundation for a love of reading that will blossom for a lifetime. Allow your kids to practice intellectual freedom, and to learn to read with abundance. We can all celebrate our right to read.