Read On! Freedom To Read

Of all the myriad documents produced by the American Library Association (ALA), the Freedom to Read Statement is my favorite. Originally issued in May, 1953 it is an incredibly powerful and fist-pumping read. It starts with the assertion: “The freedom to read is essential to our democracy” and end with my favorite line: “Freedom itself is a dangerous way of life, but it is ours.”

This week, Banned Book Week, is the week we reserve to specifically celebrate our freedom to read. Banned Book Week was started in 1982 after an increase in the number of books being challenged and banned across the nation. When a book is “challenged,” it means a member of or group within a community finds one or more things objectionable about the book and would like it removed or restricted in some way. If a book is removed from a library or school collection it gets moved from “challenged” to “banned.”

Challenged and banned books can be found in all genres and for all ages. From the Christian bible to books aiming to educate young people about sex, our society has a lot of opinions about the reading material made available in libraries and schools. The problem isn’t that people or groups have opinions about what’s appropriate reading material. The problem that libraries and librarians actively fight is when the people or groups who have those opinions attempt to force their opinions on others.

The ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom tracks book challenges from year to year. I encourage you to look at their lists. It’s interesting to see what makes the list and why. I honestly think these challenges come from a good place and with good motivation, but the challengers forget that we have the ability and should have the freedom to discern the good from the bad for ourselves and our children.