There have been many attempts to stifle freedom of speech throughout history by banning or destroying books. Remember the 15th century Dominican priest Girolamo Savonarola’s “Bonfire of the Vanities,” in which books (among other objects) that the radical Savonarola and his followers deemed immoral, were burned in huge bonfires in 1497 in Florence, Italy?
Here’s a bit more recent (and government-sanctioned) example: The 1933 burnings in Nazi Germany of works deemed to be “non-German” (many of whose authors were Jewish, Communist, or otherwise offensive to the Nazi Germany regime and its supporters).
But did you know that such challenges to freedom of speech are still occuring today, albeit in the less violent (but no less chilling) form of challenges or attempts to ban books that are available in libraries?
Popular contemporary fiction such as The Hunger Games and books in the Harry Potter series, along with many books considered classics–such as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms to name just a few–have all been challenged and in some cases banned outright from libraries in the United States.
On October 1, from 4:30 to 6:30 pm, Hackney Library will be drawing attention to the threat to freedom of speech that such challenges to books represent with several elements in an observation of the 30th Anniversary of the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week (September 30 to October 6 this year):
- A screening of the film Fahrenheit 451 (based on the challenged/banned Ray Bradbury dystopian novel of the same name ) will take place in the library classroom on Monday, October 1, from 4:30 to 6:30 pm. Free popcorn and drinks will be available at the screening of this classic 1996 Francois Truffaut film.
- Outside the library classroom, books in Hackney Library’s collection that are on a variety of challenged books lists will be displayed for several weeks beginning October 1 and will be available for circulation. So check out (literally!) a banned book!
- A brand new collection of Barton student art focusing on the theme of censorship and banned books will be displayed in the gallery area in the library’s first floor for several weeks, beginning October 1.
The reasons for the challenges range from the well-intentioned to the downright hateful. Many challenges have been brought against books written for children and youth by parents and others who worry that their content will have negative effects on children.
According to the American Library Association, which tracks such challenges, the most frequently-cited reasons by challengers include sexually explicit content, offensive language, content unsuited to the targeted age group, violence, homosexuality, expression of religious viewpoint, drug use, mention of the occult, etc.
While parents certainly should and do have a say in the books their own children are exposed to, the American Library Association advocates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinions even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability in the public sphere of those viewpoints to all who wish to read them.
By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship. While books have been and continue to be banned, part of the Banned Books Week celebration is the fact that, in a majority of cases, the books have remained available. This happens only thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, students, and community members who stand up and speak out for the freedom to read.
So stand up and be counted; champion your freedom to read by checking out a banned book, by taking in the display of student art addressing censorship, or by attending the screening of Fahrenheit 451 on Monday, October 1, from 4:30-6:30 pm (or all of the above!). We hope to see you there!