By Jenny Neyman
The list reads like the syllabus of a class on great works of 20th-centruy literature: “The Great Gatsby,” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Catcher in the Rye,” by J.D. Salinger, “The Grapes of Wrath,” by John Steinbeck, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee, and “The Color Purple,” by Alice Walker.
But it’s not. Along with being universally acclaimed masterworks of English writing, these books also are the top-five most banned and challenged classic books, as tracked by the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom.
And it’s not just classics that have ruffled puritanical feathers. Every year the OIF compiles reports from libraries across the country on further attempts at censorship, and releases an annual list of the top 10 ban-requested books. The 2013 list comes from 307 challenges reported to the OIF, though it’s estimated that many ban requests don’t get reported. The list includes the “Captain Underpants” series of young-adult books, by Dav Pilkey, and “The Hunger Games,” by Suzanne Collins. In 2012, out of 464 reported challenges, the list included “The Kite Runner,” by Khaled Hosseini, and in 2011, out of 326 reported challenges, “My Mom’s Having A Baby! A Kid’s Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy,” by Dori Hillestad Butler, made the top-10 list.
That’s not to say the books were banned, only that they were requested to be removed from circulation. It takes more than a complaint about a book being “sexually explicit” or “unsuited to age group,” or containing “offensive language,” “violence” or “homosexuality” — as are the most-frequently cited complaints in ban requests — to change a public library’s stance on intellectual freedom.
As the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights stipulates, “Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. … Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. … (And) libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.”
“Public libraries do not censor. We try to provide something for everybody, from all walks of life,” said Rachel Nash, director of the Soldotna Public Library. “We live in a society where we have voters. It’s really important that they’re able to go somewhere and learn about information for free, somewhere where the collection won’t be biased and the people won’t be biased. So that’s really what we try to do, and that’s good for all levels, from kids all the way up to adults.”
Not only do they not censor, they celebrate the lack of censorship, as the Kenai Community Library is doing this week in participating in National Banned Books Week, observed Sept. 21 through 27. Monday through Friday this week the library will hold a free movie screening, complete with popcorn and drinks, of a movie made from a banned book.
“To celebrate our freedom to read whatever we want we’re showing movies that are based on books that have been banned in the past,” said Ryanna Thurman, library assistant for information technology.