The yearly Banned Books display is up at the Arthur Johnson Memorial Library. Books bearing yellow "Caution: Banned Book" labels are set out so that our patrons can see for themselves what has been banned and challenged in other locations, not only in the United States, but throughout the world.
Before reading was such a universal skill, those who could read and write had the power to control what was copied and for what purpose. But the invention of the printing press and the increasing ability of the common person to read broke the control of a few over the many. Education became a reality for people who, in previous times, would have had no opportunity to learn to read. With this ability came the spreading of many opinions, many beliefs, many facts, many debates.
Unfortunately, this opening up of knowledge, opinion, fiction and fact to humanity did not change human nature. People really do believe in the power of the written word, and while most of us are willing to allow others their right to choose their own reading material, some are not. Books are challenged and banned in this country every year. These challenges and bannings happen mostly to school libraries, although public libraries also face their share of challenges. Often a person can understand why a parent may not want a child to read certain material. It is harder to understand why a parent would want to keep that material from all other children within their area. Challenging the propriety of a book in a library anywhere on the basis that it is unsuitable for all children or teens usurps the parental authority of other engaged parents over their own children. Challenging the propriety of a book for anyone of any age displays an attitude, however well meant, that says, "You are not able to judge for yourself."
People are often surprised that book challenges, bannings and even burnings still happen in the United States. Regrettable though that is, even more extreme reactions happen across the world. "The Satanic Verses" by Salman Rushdie (1988) resulted in world wide bannings, rioting and death. This extreme reaction was based on religious belief. Of course, religious belief in the United States has resulted in the burning of Harry Potter books by a church in our own state and a church in Greenville, Michigan, as well as Halloween burnings, by invitation only, of what a church in Canton, North Carolina called "Satan's bibles" - those that were not the King James version. These book burnings in our own country all happened in the new millennium.
Most often, book challenges and bannings occur from a desire to maintain certain standards, protect the innocent, even help create a (hopefully) Utopian society. Anxiety and fear about the exposure of everyone from individuals to societies to 'unacceptable' material can manifest themselves through these attempts at censorship.
Libraries everywhere stand in opposition to moving backward in time to when the few determined what the many were allowed to know. What we choose to read ourselves should be under our own control.
This community has always displayed a respect for the rights of others to choose their own reading and viewing material. Perhaps that is, in part, because this library makes no attempt to force anything on anyone. We do not take prisoners. We hold no one hostage. Our goal, like the goals of public libraries across this nation, is to meet the varied needs and desires of each individual - even if they have been banned somewhere else.