(Published as a Viewpoint in the 9/27/16 Monadnock Ledger Transcript)
Every September, the American Library Association celebrates Banned Book Week. You have probably seen a book display with police caution tape in your library or bookstore. The goal of the program is to keep a conversation going about the importance of free access to books in our libraries. Today, few books are actually banned, but many books are challenged, or recommended for removal from a public or school library. Librarians and Library Trustees set up processes to listen to these concerns but actively prevent collections from being censored to accommodate one person’s opinion or value system.
At the Peterborough Town Library, we have had exactly NO books challenged in the last fifteen years or more. In fact, I struggled to create a banned book display because all of the books on the list were checked out! But Banned Book Week presents another opportunity for librarians and readers. It encourages us to think about the importance of reading broadly and building diverse collections. As we librarians say, “If you are not offending someone in your community, you don’t have a great collection.” The public library is an access point to learning about interests and passions but also for exploring ideas and world views we may not understand or agree with.
This becomes more important as social media, news apps, and online feeds become a favored source for information and media. We begin to narrow our own information stream and social circles by liking what we agree with, reading what makes us comfortable, and perhaps banning what we don’t find valuable. The public library allows us an alternative stream of information, curated with the intention to give you access to wide-ranging topics, authors, and ideas and encourage you to discuss them.
I recently started reading Krista Tippett’s new book, Becoming Wise. Tippett writes beautifully about the importance of being able to listen to others who you passionately disagree with, without the goal of finding common ground or agreement. The goal instead is to listen and understand the other person’s side even a little bit more.
In celebration of Banned Book Week, how about sitting down with a book you would disagree with? Books won’t argue with you, but quietly wait for you to listen. You don’t have to agree, but you may find you create space for understanding and empathy.
Here are my recommendations:
Two White Rabbits by Jairo Buitrago and Rafael Yockteng
Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates
Our Only World by Wendell Berry
Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living by Krista Tippett