In honor of Banned Books Week, I recently finished The Perks of being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, which is seated eighth on the ALA’s charted list of top ten most challenged books in the year 2013. The reasons for censorship, according to the ALA, were due to the use of drugs, alcohol, and smoking as well as homosexuality and sexually explicit scenes, all of which were deemed unsuited for the marketed age group. While I believe Chbosky’s novel needs to stay on our libraries’ shelves, I also want to critically examine the motivation behind the challenge to ban books and a potential way to amend the issue without the necessity to ban.
The ALA Office of Intellection Freedom and its offshoot, the Freedom to Read Foundation, shares a mission to protect the first amendment, provide resources to help local libraries with certain challenged materials, and stand against the dangers of censorship. In the context of my reaction to The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I was not surprised to find the explicit content right there between the pages. Nevertheless, I agree with ALA’s key messages on challenged books like this one: libraries are meant to provide ideas and information across the spectrum of social and political views; libraries are one of the great democratic institutions and provide freedom of choice for all people; parents are responsible for supervising their own children’s library use (Maatta Smith, 2014). In other words, I believe that libraries have just as much right not to ban books as people have the right to challenge them.
Yet critically examining the motivation behind challenged books can reveal an important, generally unaddressed issue. Statistically, from 1990 to 2010, the three leading reasons for challenged books were (1) sexually explicit content, (2) offensive language, and (3) unsuited to age group. Perhaps the real issue here is concerning the safety and protection of children, not the first amendment. The three places where books were challenged most were schools, school libraries, and public libraries. Parents are responsible for supervising their own children’s library use, but I also allege that parents can use some help.
There might be alternative methods to amend the conflict of challenged books without needing to ban them from schools and libraries. I strongly believe intellectual freedom in our libraries should not be limited or banned in any way. Yet, I think it might be helpful to rate books for the sake of parents. Generally speaking, a parent does not have time to sit down and read a book to determine whether it is appropriate for his or her child. However, just as ratings are given to feature films (G, PG, PG 13, R), I wonder if such a system could be applied to books as well. In this way, the books can still be circulated, yet parents will know by looking at the back cover whether there is “challengeable” content inside, and therefore be given the means to use a better-informed personal judgement. While this solution will not stop the challenging of books, it might empower parents to protect their children from content that may be unsuitable.
Maatta Smith, Stephanie. (2014). Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read [PDF Document]. Retrieved from https://blackboard.wayne.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-4795393-dt-content-rid-1488793_2/courses/LIS_6010_1209_001/Banned%20Books%20Week.pdf