Just in time: Banned Books Week

Given the recent public scuffle over Sarah Palin's conversations while mayor with a Wasilla librarian about the possibility of banning books, there probably couldn't be a better moment for the American Library Association's Banned Books Week, which begins tomorrw, Sept. 27, and runs through Oct. 4.

On their website the ALA asks: Why should we be concerned about the notion of banning books? Don't most challenges to books in US libraries simply come from parents worried that their children will be exposed to inappropriate material?

Yes, agrees the ALA, "books usually are challenged with the best intentions – to protect others, frequently children, from difficult ideas and information." But they answer both concerns with quotes.

As to why we should care that a book should not be banned: “If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all.” (Noam Chomsky)

As for the rights of parents to protect their children from exposure to ideas they believe are wrong, the ALA quotes from its own Library Bill of Rights: "Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that parents – and only parents – have the right and the responsibility to restrict the access of their children – and only their children – to library resources."

Banned Book Week has been celebrated since 1982.

Books challenged over the years have included "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald, "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee, "Their Eyes Were Watching God" by Zora Neale Hurston, "The Call of the Wild" by Jack London, "Gone with the Wind" by Margaret Mitchell, "Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck, "The Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger, and "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker.

More recently, you could add the Harry Potter novels.

John Stuart Mill probably wasn't thinking of a Harry Potter-type manuscript when he wrote the following words (also quoted on the ALA website): "If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."

But J.K. Rowling, like every author, benefits from the efforts of those who take Mill's words seriously.

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