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Libraries, bookstores mark 'Banned Books Week'
Posted 09/26/2016 11:39AM


Cary Knapp, librarian at the College of Coastal Georgia

Call of the Wild. Catch-22. Where The Wild Things Are. In Cold Blood. The Bible.

All of these books have something in common, and it's not only that they've been printed in English. Rather, they've been removed from public libraries across the country, and the world, after complaints.

"They really aren't 'banned,'" explained Cary Knapp, a librarian at College of Coastal Georgia. "Banned means you can't read it. What books are — and more and more this is happening — they are challenged. A student could bring a book to us right now and say it's a disgusting book, it's filled with horrible language and I want it off the shelf."

That's never happened to Knapp, but that's not keeping her from promoting Banned Books Week, which begins Sunday and runs through Saturday. This year, the week's theme focuses on books that have been challenged because of diversity issues.

In recent years, books concerning diversity-centered issues have been in the crosshairs, according to the Association of American Publishers. They're books that talk about social isolation, physical or attitudinal barriers, racism, sexual orientation, gender, immigration status — the list could go on.

Books regarding diversity issues are more likely to be challenged than other books, according to a study by the University of Wisconsin. Data gathered by the university between 1994 and 2012 shows that only 10 percent of published books involved multicultural content, while about 20 percent of the country's population is nonwhite, according to the U.S. Census.

"While 'diversity' is seldom given as a reason for a challenge, it may in fact be an underlying and unspoken factor," wrote James LeRue, director of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom. "The work is about people and issues others would prefer not to consider. Often, content addresses concerns of groups who have suffered historic and ongoing discrimination."

Knapp is working to raise awareness of censorship and the importance of tolerating different viewpoints during Banned Books Week, which started in 1982. She's placed an eye-catching display in the lobby of CCGA's library, and in the past has even sponsored events on campus.

"The display usually attracts a lot of attention," she said. "I'll put the books up in the lobby and wrap crime scene tape around it. In the past, we've done banned book read-outs, where we spent the whole day having staff and students read passages from their favorite book that's been challenged."

People challenge books for a variety of reasons, said Debbie Holmes, dean of libraries at CCGA. Sometimes books are challenged for racy sexual themes, sometimes for racial undertones and sometimes religious topics, she said.

"One thing that gets books challenged is sexuality, in any shape or form," Holmes said. "Or it's something scary. It's something — or anything — that's out of norm for the society. Even the Bible has been banned. People challenge books they find threatening. Sometimes it does seem very crazy."

Since the Banned Books Week Coalition launched Banned Books Week 32 years ago, some 11,300 books have been challenged in schools, bookstores and libraries across America, according to the American Library Association.
In 2015, some of the most challenged books included John Green's "Looking for Alaska," E. L. James' "Fifty Shades of Grey," and — wait for it — the Bible.

Holmes said she's concerned that American society is growing increasingly fractured and civil discourse seems to be eroding. Amplifying the effect, people increasingly live in "echo chambers" where they're not being challenged to hear other points of view, she said.

"If you have a little bit more of a perspective from different people, who maybe have a little different opinion than you, and read about a subject, you can realize they have a point that is useful," she said. "You're a better well-rounded person."

Holmes said books can have a profound impact on the way people view the world around them.

"Books can help you broaden your horizon," Holmes said. "We (society) used to respect each other and be a little more civil, and we were all different. I think that's going away. It does seem like our society is very divided."

It isn't always racism, sexuality or foul language that gets books challenged, though, said Ben Bryson, assistant director of Marshes of Glynn Libraries.

"One of the most challenged books (in the country), is 'Captain Underpants,'" Bryson said of the children's book series. "The vast majority of cases are books that, for whatever reason, parents don't want their kids reading."

Maybe, he mused, it's the word "underpants."Although Bryson isn't aware of any books having been banned from the Brunswick-Glynn County Library, he said there is a process in place for people to register complaints. Like anything else involving government, the process starts with a form the challenger needs to fill out that details their complaint and reasons why they would like the book removed from the shelf.

"Then there's a process where it ends up going before the library board," Bryson said.
The board, made up of nine members appointed by the Glynn County Commission, has the final say in whether to remove the challenged title, Bryson said.

Holmes, though, hopes that people will take challenging a book seriously, because for some people, books are a way to feel connected and at home.

"People say to me, 'You know, I didn't feel like I was part of the environment that I lived in, but I found a voice in the library in a book that spoke to me about who I am,'" she said. "So, if you didn't have books about Cubans, or Jewish people, or a variety of voices in the library, then people wouldn't be able to find themselves when they felt like the environment wasn't a comfortable place."


Cary Knapp, a librarian at the College of Coastal Geargia, holds crime scene tape in her office Wednesday as she prepares to make a display for National Banned Books Week, which begins today.

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