Books should enlighten the World
"Books are dangerous. They make you feel. wonder. They make you ask questions" (Banned Books Week, 1). Book censorship is a problem that has been around for ages. For every book that is written, there is always a person or group that is against its publication. Banned Books Week takes place on the last week of September every year for the past eight or more years, and each year brings up the issue of book censorship. They make a list every year of the total number of challenged books and the total number of books removed from a library entirely. The list over the past few years has increased due to more and more people challenging books. The problem is that some people fell that censorship is justified to protect children and remove offensive material from the shelves and it is the responsibility of the library to protect children. However, there are others that believe the 1st amendment itself is being shoved aside and it isn't the job of the libraries to censor materials but that of the parents to instruct and teach their children properly. So of course it raises the question; to what extent should library book censorship be allowed? Within the contents of this essay, one must come to realize that censorship is a problem of the past and present, and also the future, because as long as there are writers with a creative and original mind, there are those trying to stifle those freedoms.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances" (Banned Books Week, 1). That amendment was what changed the history of censorship to what it is today. In the past, to censor a writer, all one had to do was burn the book to cinders. Various religious majorities controlled what was being written and published. If they did not like something, they got rid of it, calling it unholy or the work of the devil. However in the more recent past, it takes a court ruling at times to censor books, as shown in one way with textbooks;
"In Smith v. Board of School Commissioners of Mobile County, Alabama
District Judge Brevard Hand, acting on a petition by a teach who
believed in creationism, ordered 7,000 copies of 45 widely used
historical, social studies and home economics textbooks removed from
classrooms. They violated separation of church and state, the judge
wrote, by teaching the 'religion of secular humanism" (CQ researcher,
11). The belief of removing textbooks that have been used in many places and for many years that don't work with ones beliefs was beginning to become more and more common and it also occurred in this next case, however; in this case, there was no removal of the books, "In West Virginia State Board of Education V Barnette (1943), the high court state, 'If there is any fixed star in out constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matter of opinion'" (Library Censorship is not Justified 1). It is cases like these that set the stage for further challenges, although it seems only a handful are making it onto the scene. Even the Holy Bible was challenged in the past, "In 1993, the Bible was challenges as 'obscene and pornographic,' but retained, at the Noel Wien Library in Fairbanks, Alaska" (Literature Suppressed on Religious Grounds 25). Censorship in the past didn't look pretty. In another textbook challenge, "Board of Education v. Pico (1982) [It was ruled that] 'Local school boards may not remove books from school libraries simply because they dislike the ideas contained in these books'" (Library Censorship is Not Justified 2). These challenges have been going on for a long time now; it's all more civilized than the books that were burned in the distant past when they didn't like the written materials. It's for that reason we don't have many Mayan texts that archeologists know existed at one point and yet only have four of them. 348 challenges were made for books [most likely public library books] in 1991-92 according to PAW, highest in 10 year history and also 394 challenges for school library books documented by CALA in 1991-92 and these are supposed to be only about 20% of the challenges that were recorded, (CQ researcher 1). That's a lot of books in the past few years. As a fact also major groups have raised a cry for censorship in the past, "the NAACP and other African-American groups have long protested classic works in which characters used the word, 'nigger,' among them Huckleberry Finn, Gone with the Wind, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and The Just-So Stories of Rudyard Kipling" (CQ research 2). And also, it is a fact, that 7 out of the top 10 books have been challenged or banned from libraries [CQ Researcher 20]. Those are some of the greatest works in the literary world, such as To Kill a Mockingbird. There are many that are working now to protect books, such as the ALA who are working to fight against censorship and other library organizations.

Now while it is easy to see that many books are in the process of being censored, it is now believable that there are some legit reasons for the censorship. For instance, the book To Kill a Mockingbird, "The novel was also challenged in 1984 in Waukegan, Illinois, schools for the inclusion of the word, 'Nigger' and in 1985 Park Hill (Missouri) Junior High School parents challenged the novel because it contained racial slurs and offensive language" (Literature Suppressed on Social Grounds 233). The challenge was valid, however; the book was retained in this case. For a book of Walt Whitman's poems, it was, "too grossly obscene and lewd to be placed on the records of the court" (167). In this case the book was censored, for the book contained references to sex and desire and other things. For this literary work, it was from the beginning very difficult to publish and sell. Some people, they sometimes talk, and for one thing, "most gave long impassioned speeches about their impression that JC [Jesus Christ] would be appalled by any book that did not condemn homosexuality. (There is no record in the Bible that Jesus ever addressed the issue)" (Montgomery Country News 1). However, in the Old Testament, it is mentioned, so the saying that Jesus himself was against it wasn't true, but the bible's Old Testament did mention being against it, so in that particular case, it was a little true. People for a long time have been trying to get their views heard and to protect children on all counts, or just to protect their beliefs, "Just because material is constitutionally protected does not mean it's existence in a library is justified," (Library Censorship is Justified). That is in fact entirely true, if there was a book on how to make a bomb in one's library, wouldn't they want to remove it for fear of someone actually creating and using a bomb? It's literature like that, that has people mortified (ever since 9-11) about some of the literature in the libraries, although no challenges have been recorded on such books. As such, "There is no reason why people of color should have to tolerate the existence of Klu Klus Klan literature or other racist materials in a library funded with their tax money. Jews should not have to tolerate anti-semitic propaganda. Women should not have to tolerate sexist materials" (Library Censorship is Justified 1). That in itself is an entirely true statement. Just because the material exists, it does not have to 'exist' on most shelves if it is that degrading to other cultures and other races and genders. But then again, isn't it all too easy to say all books are degrading someone? Yes, but it goes by many names and forms, for instance, "When parents- who are citizens, voters and tax payers- question or criticize the quality of tax-supported educational services, reasonable people do not call it censorship; they call it democracy. After all, school boards are government agencies, and most school board members are elected politicians" (CQ researcher 15). One must understand that the books are censored because people believe they need to be censored, in order to protect the children and their own view on things. Books are normally banned for, "Obscenity, vulgar language, violence, inappropriateness, bathroom language, 'R-rated language', ungodliness, immoral subject matter, cruelty, language that is 'too modern' and an 'unpatriotic' portrayal of war" (Literature Suppressed on Political Grounds 417). It is for those reasons that many books are under fire and some even may deserve to be under fire. People have a right to complain and attempt to censor such materials, but it still raises the question, is it the right thing to do?

Actually, it isn't the right thing to do. "Library censors correctly assert that they have a constitutional right to express their opinions. Unfortunately they ignore the fact that this is the very right they would deprive others from enjoying" (Library Censorship is Not Justified 3). They seem to believe that they are protecting their children for sure, but what about others that learn from the books being censored, enjoy reading the materials? In truth, public libraries shouldn't even have to consider censoring books, "'Yes, technically only a school can censor,' says Deanna Duby, deputy legal director of People for the American Way, 'and in our rhetorical moments, many of us have used the term in an incorrect sense. But even though these parents aren't censors, they are asking for censorship. They are attempting to get books removed on grounds other than educational ones'" (CQ researcher 3). In the fact that only a school can censor, it is supposed to mean that for perhaps kindergarten and elementary school students don't need to be reading books of a technical or different nature. They don't have the ability to understand such materials and cannot comprehend what its deeper message, they rather just run to their parents and say they saw a dirty word in a book they read, and the parents claim they need to censor the book. It's the parents' duty to raise their children, and not the libraries of America, both public and private. With books such as To Kill a Mockingbird and also The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, it is important to realize that the language used in these wonderful works was accepted in the past. No one gave it much of a second thought when the books were published, and it is only now that the language is considered rude and vulgar. As Golda Mein puts it, "One cannot and must not try to erase the past merely because it does not fit the present" (Quotations on Censorship 2). It's important to realize that these books are what they are because they were written in the past based on past situations that were in high controversy at the time. And no, the language was not the problem, but the actual subject matter was, it was trying to invoke change and deliver a message, but no one seems to see that much anymore, they merely see it uses a word like 'nigger' and they assume it's not suitable to be on the shelves of a library. "Every time a person or group succeeds in banning a book, another is encouraged to do the same. Unless librarians and the public have the courage to stand up to the censors, the shelves of the libraries will contain fewer and fewer materials and the free flow of ideas will trickle to a stop" (Library Censorship is Not Justified 3). It's basically that in a nutshell, because

"Censors routinely challenge some of the world's greatest literature,
including the works of Faulkner, Steinbeck, Shakespeare, and even the
Bible. As Ann K. Symons, a past president of the American Library
Association, points out, a third of the books on the modern library's
list of the one hundred best novels of the twentieth century,
including six of the top ten, have been challenged as inappropriate
for libraries" (2).

It's these great works that many are loosing due to censorship. Some people question a library's duty to people, and there is a perfect reply, "The purpose of a library is not to promote certain points of view, but to promote a diversity of opinions" (1-2). And seemingly because it is supposed to present diversity, much of the diversity is trying to get their way out there and their way alone. Is it right to push one's values onto someone else by saying they can't read something because there's a group or a person that doesn't approve of it? The simple truth is, "Censors always deny they're censors" (CQ researcher 3). They don't want to admit to themselves or to anyone else that they are censoring materials for an indefinite amount of time. Again with the libraries, their role is often mistaken, in reality, "as agents of the government, libraries are bound by the constitution to promote free speech and diversity of opinion. The impulse to ban books from libraries arises from confusion over the roles libraries play in society" (Library Censorship is Not Justified 1). They are there through government, there to promote freedom of speech, but with all sorts of groups at them for having books in their midst that are not approved of by all, they have to give in to the pressures of society's morals as time goes on. In a recent survey, when the question was asked if anyone had read such fictional materials as mentioned previously in this report, 94% said yes and 6% said no. As followed, the ones who hadn't read the materials were part of the 18% that said that books should be censored on the basis that a child might read them, while the other 84% said that they shouldn't be censored at all. Furthermore, 64% compared to a margin of 28% said that school curriculum shouldn't be changed based on complaints filed by persons on materials in class. A 50% majority said that by middle school, most students understand most of what they read, followed by 38% saying that high school was where most students understood what they read. An overwhelming margin of 82% said that removing books based on a social, religious, or political issue wasn't a good idea as well. That in itself shows that with age, understanding will come as well, but with what is going on now, do people truthfully understand the extent of the censorship they are trying to do?

That is why a new plan is needed in order to protect the libraries and those that use them for reading materials and such. I believe that censorship, if it is at all necessary, should only be allowed within schools. Public libraries are open to a wider range of people, so if censorship occurred there, there would be barren libraries, of course, I could say the same for school libraries. There are some ways to go about limiting censors without infringing on their own constitutional rights, such as allowing them to challenge a book and then to let a variety of persons, such as some teachers, parents, and students to review the material and see if it is really necessary to remove it from the shelves. If it is a parent who tries to censor a book, they (librarians) should be allowed to tell that parent that there are others who read the book(s) in question and they cannot let their enjoyment of the book go away. Some books that were written in the past, over 30 or more years ago, really have no point in being challenged for language, because it was in the past, and it may have been acceptable language in the past. If it isn't suitable language in the present, I say, tough luck. I would only tell them to go to the past and change that, or else there is nothing that I can do. Besides, some books, such as To Kill a Mockingbird, are classic books with deeper messages within the language. If some of the problem is the messages, maybe offering literary book courses to go over and learn about such great works like those of Shakespeare is needed, or else the understanding of why a book was chosen for a school curriculum in the first place is lost to concerned parents. Most certainly, some books should be removed from libraries, ever since 9-11, books instructing on how to make bombs are a threat to national security. I'm not saying to remove them entirely, but to make it so it is something people must order or request at a library or even a bookstore. Having them out in the open can be dangerous during these times. Of course, there are other things, but some may seem more rash or irrational so it would seem pointless to put them up. It's simple really, people just have to realize that once everyone is allowed to censor, eventually there will be no more books to read or enjoy, it's as simple as that.

To stifle freedom of speech is a crime, and also it is a crime to not protect children, right? So who is truly in the right? No one is able to fully understand that answer, because everyone's values and morals are different. But one must understand fully and completely that it is a problem, and one that needs to be resolved. People are causing books to disappear from the shelves of libraries and that is a part of history that the world looses, and it is becoming more frequent as the days go by. All people do is wipe a little of history away day by day, and no one will see the full effects of it until much later. But, at the same time, as Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it, "Ever book burned enlightens the world." And isn't there truth in that as well?