Form your own opinions about banned books

In case you missed it, Banned Books Week was Sept. 22-28, during which libraries across the country celebrated everyone's right to read. Why devote an entire week to celebrate your right to read whatever you want?

In libraries, schools and even universities across the country, certain books are "challenged" or "banned" because of their sexually explicit imagery, graphic violence or offensive language. Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell's children's book And Tango Makes Three, in which two male penguins take care of an abandoned egg, has been challenged in libraries every year since 2006 because of the alleged homosexuality references. Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants, a series of books in which fourth-graders transform their school principal into a comic book character, is constantly challenged by some parents who say that the books contain offensive language. E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey has been condemned as soft porn because of its sexual content. If you have a Beaufort County Library card, you can form your own opinions about these books by checking them out at your nearest branch.

"Discover What You're Missing" was this year's theme of American Library Association's Banned Book Week. The themed graphic is reminiscent of the once-classified government documents on UFOs, Nazi War Crimes and the Bay of Pigs that are now available at the Freedom of Information Act Electronic Reading Room. While most Americans understand why national security trumps the public's right to know, some librarians stand behind the Freedom to Read.

So, is the real issue access or censorship? For example, if the classic Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird was not available because it contained offensive language and racism, would you still want the option of reading the book for yourself? If you objected to the contents of a book, at what lengths would you go to challenge a book?

As history would suggest, you'd have a fight on your hands.

Since 1986, the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom has promoted Banned Books Week to ensure that everyone is aware of censorship issues that may affect the public in schools or public libraries. The OIF aggregates data from schools, libraries and the media to compile a list of Frequently Challenged Books throughout the country. While the list is not comprehensive, it gives an overview of the titles that are challenged or banned.

This year, the school board of Randolph County North Carolina was forced to lift its ban on Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man after public outrage ensued. While the parents' claim that Summer Reading selection was "too much for teenagers" was valid, the board members read the book and opted to return it to the school library's shelves.

Check out your local branch of the Beaufort County Library to "Discover What You're Missing."

Belinda Blue is the reference manager at St. Helena Island library.

Original story at the Island Packet