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Flagging Enthusiasm For Banned Books Week

How could I almost forget to blog about Banned Books Week? After National Library Week, it's probably the biggest holiday in Libraryland. I love Banned Books Week because it gives me a chance to talk about books I love because, let's face  it, some of the best books are the ones that cause controversy. As I used to do on my old book blog, here are the top 10 most challenged books from the last year according to the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom and the two I've actually gotten around to reading are in bold:

  1. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
    Reasons: homosexuality, religious viewpoint, and unsuited to age group
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: offensive language, racism, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and violence
  3. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
    Reasons: insensitivity, offensive language, racism, and sexually explicit
  4. Crank by Ellen Hopkins
    Reasons: drugs, offensive language, and sexually explicit
  5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and violence
  6. Lush by Natasha Friend
    Reasons: drugs, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group
  7. What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones
    Reasons: sexism, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group
  8. Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
    Reasons: drugs, inaccurate, offensive language, political viewpoint, and religious viewpoint
  9. Revolutionary Voices edited by Amy Sonnie
    Reasons:  homosexuality and sexually explicit
  10. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
    Reasons: religious viewpoint and violence

Since I started blogging about BBW when I was a starry-eyed library school student I've had to deal with an actual book challenge. The story is fairly mundane.

At my last library a lady had complained about the explicit nature of a book in my section.The title and picture on the cover left no hints to the racy nature of the book, so when an 80-year-old Sidney Sheldon reader picked it up, she was understandably upset. I had chosen the book because it received rave reviews in several publications. After a long talk with her about how everyone's reading habits are different and how important it is to read the blurb on the back cover we ended our conversation as friends.

However, I also learned an important lesson as a selector. Looking at how often the book had circulated, I realized that just because something gets enthusiastic reviews in all the major trade publications doesn't mean that it's going to be a high interest item in my library. After talking to one of my colleagues who'd bought for my section in the past, she explained that generally books like that one (translations) didn't circulate well, even if Library Journal and Publisher's Weekly got excited about them.

So if I chose to buy fewer books in translation after this encounter would that have been censorship? If I decided not to buy books in translation because they might be too scandalous and invite challenge, then you could certainly make that argument. But in this case I chose not to buy certain books because past evidence showed me that my patrons had little interest in checking them out, and at that library we really didn't have shelf space for books that didn't check out fairly frequently.

Normally, I spend my BBW post talking about the horrors of censorship and proudly waving the banner of intellectual freedom. I'm not trying to shy away from those topics this year, it's just that the last few years of working in the real world have tempered my idealism a little. Absolutely we should try to carry the books our patrons are interested in. But intellectual freedom doesn't mean that we go out of our way to buy every potentially offensive book we can find.
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