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Reading Your Mind
No other country in the world matches the scope of America's freedom of speech. The free and open exchange of ideas, the ability to make up your own mind and then speak it, and to publish without fear of government reprisal or censorship, sustains the very foundation of our democracy. Librarians have long been ardent advocates of free speech (though sometimes we frown on REALLY LOUD free speech).
Over the coming week, New City Library will be joining with other libraries and booksellers across America to take part in the 30th annual celebration of Banned Books Week. This last week in September is set aside every year to promote the benefits of free and open access to information, and to underscore the dangers of censorship. Banned Books Week honors a right we never, ever want to lose-- our Constitutionally guaranteed freedom to read.
Censorship often stems from a very good instinct: the instinct to protect the people we care about, most especially our kids. Many of us would willingly risk our lives to shield children from dangers that threaten their welfare. But when the danger comes from a book-- from an idea-- matters get a little more complicated. Our country was built on what many considered to be dangerous ideas, and we tend not to agree on what's "dangerous." A title that you deem unsuitable may be perfectly acceptable, even necessary, to another family. The First Amendment entitles both of you to your opinions.
If you really have a problem with a book, talk about it. Tell everyone you know why you hate it. Tell your kids why you don't want them reading it-- that's your right. Censorship is not. By removing a title from a library or a reading list, you're not just voicing your opinion; you're removing the opportunity for others to make up their own minds about it. As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”
It's up to you what you read, or don't read. What's important to us is that you have that choice.
If you'd like to know more about Banned Books Week, the library will have displays up all week in the lobby and on the display rack next to the adult reference desk. I've also listed a few related websites below. I invite you to join in our celebration; come check out a banned or challenged book this week and "read your mind"!
Banned Books Week
Top Ten Books Challenged in 2010
American Library Association: Books Challenged and/or Banned in 2010-2011 (PDF)
Frequently Challenged Classics
Amnesty International on Banned Books Week
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
The National Coalition Against Censorship
The Beacon for Freedom of Expression
National Council of Teachers of English: Students' Right to Read