Intellectual freedom — the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular — provides the foundation for Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read, set this year for Sept. 25 to Oct. 2.
Founded by the American Library Association, Banned Books Week (BBW) celebrates the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them.
UAB’s Sterne Library is participating in BBW for the second consecutive year, and faculty, staff and students are invited to visit the library and read a challenged book during that time.
“We like being a part of this event for several reasons,” says Dana Hettich, general reference librarian at Sterne. “The ability to read, and to choose what you read, and to go to a library and expect to find a certain book — or any book — is part of the American fabric. To have an opportunity to promote the importance of protecting books and giving our faculty, staff and students an opportunity to be a part of something larger is nice.”
The books featured during Banned Books Week have been targets of attempted bannings, and many of the books are considered classics. Some of the American Library Association’s most challenged books include 1984, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, the Harry Potter series, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Kite Runner and Lord of the Flies.
The importance of the First Amendment
While some books targeted have been banned or restricted, in a majority of cases the books were not banned. The efforts of librarians, teachers, booksellers and members of the community to retain the books in the library collections are lauded by the association as reasons why many books have been saved.
Events like Sterne Library’s teach the importance of First Amendment rights and the power of literature. They also draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.
“The idea that you can come in and say, ‘I don’t like this book; take it off your shelf,’ really seems contrary to everything we do with free speech and the ability to hold an idea — whether it’s popular or unpopular, liked or disliked,” Hettich says. “It’s a prin-ciple we hold. We’re doing that to draw attention to this idea.”
More than 40 faculty, staff and students participated in BBW in 2009. Participants came to Sterne Library and read excerpts from the list of challenged books.
This year, instead of public readings, Hettich says participants have the option to be recorded on audio or video for a podcast that will be posted to the Sterne Library Facebook page and librarians’ blogs.
“We’re excited about being able to offer video and audio recordings this year,” Hettich says. “It gives everyone a choice; they can do what they feel most comfortable with, and we can edit it and display it on the Web. It can be something ongoing, something that happens before banned book week and can still be displayed after.”
“We will be happy to provide the items if volunteers don’t have items of their own,” Hettich says.