Banned Books Week embraces reader freedom

Tuesday October 2, 2012

A woman walked into the Milne Public Library in Williamstown on Monday morning and approached a peculiar display of books in a trash can in the children's section.

"Ah, ah. Watch out. They're not good for you," children's librarian Mindy Hackner said.

The two women laughed at the idea of books being bad for people, but for years many titles have been challenged and pulled from the shelves for their ideas, language and depiction.

Now through Saturday, the American Library Association and its numerous partners are sponsoring the 30th national Banned Books Week, which celebrates the freedom to read.

Each year, the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom receives reports from libraries, schools and the media on attempts to ban books in communities across the country.

Banned and challenged titles range from classics like Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" (language, sexual content) to 21st century popular titles like J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series for allegedly occult themes and violence.

"It's amazing that this day in age, Harry Potter could be potentially banned because of wizardry," Milne Library Director Pat McLeod said.

She said the library has two "Banned Book" displays, one in the children's section and one in the teen section, because their literature seems to be challenged the most.

"I think it's just misguided readers trying to protect young readers. We remind people that they can make all the decisions they want for their own children, but leave it up to others to make their own," Hackner said.

Julianne Boyd, artistic director for Barrington Stage Company, has produced staged adaptations of banned books, including "To Kill a Mockingbird" (2008) and William Golding's "The Lord of the Flies," which opens Wednesday.

"I think what attracts me to these books is that people feared them as they were opened in closed societies. They can't believe what actually happens, for example, in ‘Lord of the Flies,' how young boys can be savages," Boyd said.

She said books like "To Kill a Mockingbird," which highlighted segregation in the southern United States, can educate people through exposure. "If it's hidden, then you don't fight it," she said.

Boyd said that in a digital age, with frequent use of mobile devices and portable electronic readers, it will become more challenging to ban books.

Hackner said that primarily Banned Books Week is about humor and appreciation for literature.

"Where would we be without those books? They're part of our culture and define certain things for us," she said.


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