Banned Books Week, this year between the 23rd and 29th of September, is a time to celebrate the freedom to read, the freedom to be intellectually curious, the freedom of expression, the freedom to be controversial, the freedom to disagree, the freedom to investigate, and the freedom to find answers, values that the library profession stands for and the Maine Library Association fully supports. Censorship is the opposite of these values, and it originates from motivations as basic as differences in taste and as ominous as totalitarian political regimes. Opposition to a book is sometimes personal, often arbitrary, potentially harmful, and usually unnecessary, and when we find out that some books now considered classics were once banned, we wonder what could have been so objectionable in the first place. Banned Books Week allows us to assert that intellectual freedom and reading in general are good things in a society, which we do by displaying books that have been restricted by someone somewhere sometime.
Readers in Maine might have heard of an incident at the Rumford Public Library earlier this month when a group of pastors challenged the Banned Book display on the grounds that some of the books were inappropriate for children. The point of the display was not to offend or to promote any of the content of any of the books, it was to promote intellectual freedom. Library materials generally represent many points of view -- even opposing points of view -- that different patrons want and need, and it is unfortunate that not everybody always recognizes it. Librarians can respectfully remind the public that one patron is as free to read challenged material as another patron is to object to it. At a Board of Trustees meeting that followed the challenge in Rumford, the community discussed the matter with the pastors and settled it. We are glad that they came to an understanding of the display.
We sometimes take the freedom to read for granted in an open, democratic society such as ours, but we shouldn’t. There are places in the world that are not free, and freedom in places that are free is not guaranteed. Banned Books Week helps us to remember the benefits of living in a free society and how libraries contribute to the quality of life in our communities.