You Can’t Handle this Book

I had way too much fun at the ad shoot.

During Banned Books Week, the libraries I have worked for have created a police-tape bedecked display and that’s pretty much it. Once, I got to run a banned book reading group, but hardly anyone showed up. This year was different. This year, I got to present at my university’s ethics awareness week*.

It was refreshing to talk to people outside the library about what Banned Books Week is really supposed to be about—and clarify what librarians mean when we’re talking about “celebrating” BBW. I got to remind people that the whole event is really about protecting intellectual freedom. As librarians and intellectual freedom advocates see it, intellectual freedom is the right to pursue your curiosity wherever it takes you…and then come back and tell the rest of us about it.

The best part was the discussion at the end. My “lecture” ended after about 30 minutes, to leave time for the audience to respond. I always get a bit nervous when I present before faculty; I always worry that one of them will raise the bullshit flag on me. But there was a solid back and forth about parents and overprotectiveness and chilling effects. Then the discussion continued out into the hall after we gave up the lecture hall to the next presentation.

As I did the research for “You Can’t Handle This Book,” I felt that talking about intellectual freedom and censorship has become even more important. I had to limit my search to instances in just the past 12 months. My bibliography is huge enough as it is. There have been so many incidents in the past year, from elementary school libraries to public libraries to middle and high school libraries to colleges. It was disheartening to see so many. (It didn’t help that a friend sent me a link to this story from The Los Angeles Register about yet another banning for John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars that happened on September 23. Books aren’t even safe during Banned Books Week anymore.

I ended my session with an exhortation to the audience to read irresponsibly. I hope they do.

* Ironically, I got on the roster by working connections. 

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