In our two narrative worlds, a growing concern over censorship has risen. Banned Books Week launched in 1982 to celebrate books commonly challenged for addressing controversial issues. Marj Atkinson, Brookhaven Campus Resource Librarian, sat down with The Brookhaven Courier to discuss the importance of protecting informational freedom in literature.
Q: What is Banned Book Week and why is it significant?
A: It is significant to improve freedom of information. As librarians, we are trained to do that. When people ban books, it’s usually because they are trying to censor a subject or topic they don’t like. They think it’s harmful somehow to society, in K through 12 schools, or in public libraries. It’s significant to bring light to books historically banned and to keep that freedom of information flowing.
Q: What criteria determine which books typically are banned?
A: It’s usually something controversial. Some topic people don’t want other people to know about. They think if the book is banned, then magically people won’t have any awareness of that controversial issue.
Q: Who is responsible or has the authority to ban books?
A: In the cases of public and school libraries, it’s typically parents or community members that asked for it. Depending on who’s in charge, the library board will make that call whether or not to ban it. In school libraries, it can either be the librarian or the director of the libraries. It’s usually not just one library that makes that decision. We do as best we can not to. I don’t think it’s an issue here at the community college, because usually in academia we’re more open.
Q: What is the importance of reading the type of controversial material that is often banned?
A: It goes back to the freedom of information. The American Library Association has a statement on freedom of information, what it stands for, and that’s what we go by. It’s important to have open conversations to learn. It’s not like we’re trying to convert somebody to believe. It’s just helpful to have open conversations to understand everybody’s points of view on various topics.
Q: Some books, such as “Lolita” have had an unexpected impact on culture and society. Many have criticized the book for glamorizing abuse of minors and believe that it should no longer exist because of this. What do you think of this book’s impact on society? And the appropriateness of the stances taken against?
A: There’s a lot of books out there in that same vein. It’s not recommending that people live that way, or that it’s the norm. It helps to understand there are people out there like that. It’s like other controversial things like glamorizing the Confederacy. It’s a tough call as a librarian to keep an open mind and not just take things out of collection because it’s not, or never has been, culturally appropriate. It’s always a challenge.
Q: Commonly banned books such as “1984,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Fahrenheit 451,” and “The Great Gatsby” have been topping Amazon’s Best Sellers list recently. Why do you think this is?
A: They’re classic, enduring topics about racism and censorship and big government. By the way, I lived through 1984. It didn’t happen that way.