Columbia supports fight against forbidden books

By Katy Nielsen

Classic literature is challenged and banished by public libraries and schools every year in violation of the First Amendment right to free speech and free press. Last week, the American Library Association called on the country to take notice.

For more than a decade, Columbia has participated in Banned Books Week, which occurred this year from Sept. 25 through Oct. 2. It is a celebration of the right to read virtually anything in America. Columbia continued the tradition this year along with public libraries, schools and other institutions across the country, all of which are affected by banned or challenged books.

The college participated in a “Read-Out” and displayed banned books at the library with explanations of why the books were restricted. “Read-Out” is an event where people get together and read from frequently challenged and prohibited books in protest. Columbia took part in one on Sept. 25 in Bughouse Square, 901 N. Clark St.

“[This week is] all about supporting the freedom to be able to read any publication of your choice,” said Kim Hale, head of Library Marketing, Outreach and Special Initiatives.

Despite freedom of the press, books are banned every year in this country.

“People are demanding that schools and libraries remove books, and those schools and libraries are actually removing them,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

When a book is challenged, someone files a formal complaint or request to remove a book from a bookstore, school or public library. If that is banned, it is officially removed from that location.

A person who attempts to impose his or her own viewpoint on everybody else is the definition of censorship, said Chris Finan, president of the American Book Seller Nation for Free Expression.

“The result is that discussion and debate are impoverished, and democracy suffers,” Finan said.

There are many reasons why a book might be targeted. Sexually explicit content is the most common reason books are challenged, said Riva Feshbach, an outreach librarian at Columbia.

Books challenged for their sexual content include “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker, “Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky.

Sometimes literature is banned because of a single word, Hale said. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain was written in the 19th century and is considered controversial for the N-word’s use in reference to the character Jim, which caused the book to be disputed and removed from some school libraries.

“[The] objection to Harry Potter and all the books that talk about magic is that these books actually threaten the faith of the people who read them,” Finan said.

People who want to ban the “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” series believe magic is real; for them, it’s not fiction, Finan said.

Part of being a child is exploring the imagination. “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White has been called out because of the unrealistic talking animals.

“We’ve seen instances, in fact, where books were taken out of the hands of children while they were reading them, or shortly before they completed reading them,” Feshbach said.

As a young girl, Feshbach said reading what was considered adult literature opened her mind to new ideas.

“It was so important for me to explore that adult content,” Feshbach said.

As a librarian, Hale said she does her best to fight for the public’s right to read whatever is available.

“I hope people will consider ways to preserve that freedom and think about what it means to remove books from our schools and our libraries,” Caldwell-Stone said.