Libraries a cornerstone of democracy

Published 8:10 am Wednesday, September 28, 2011

German poet Heinrich Heine was prophetic of his own people in 1820, writing, “Where they burn books, they will, in the end, also burn people.” Over one hundred years later the Nazis seized control of Germany and propagated the practice of staged book burnings. Thousands of people, young and old, carted the works of Hemingway, London, Keller, Wells, Marx and others to the pyres because they contained ideas, thoughts, words and characters the state considered “anti-German.” What followed the book burnings was worse: World War II and the Holocaust.

This week (Sept. 24 – Oct. 1) is Banned Books Week, sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA) and a host of fellow associations and non-profit groups. The annual event casts a spotlight on censorship and the attempted practice of banning books, while also encouraging every American to take advantage of the access to information available at public libraries and bookstores across the nation.

Since 1990, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) has recorded more than 10,000 book challenges, including 513 in 2008. A challenge is a formal, written complaint requesting a book be removed from library shelves or school curriculum. About three out of four of all challenges are to material in schools or school libraries, and one in four are to material in public libraries. OIF estimates that less than one-quarter of challenges are reported and recorded.

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It is thanks to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents, and students that most challenges are unsuccessful and reading materials like “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” “Slaughterhouse Five,” the Harry Potter series, and Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Alice series, remain available.

Since its inception in 1982, Banned Books Week has reminded us that while not every book is intended for every reader, each of us has the right to decide for ourselves what to read, listen to or view.

American libraries are the cornerstones of our democracy. Libraries are for everyone, everywhere. Now, more than ever, celebrate the freedom to read at your library! Come by the Greenville-Butler County Public Library and check-out an old favorite or a new “banned” book this week.