SJC Libraries Join Nation to Celebrate Literary Freedom During Banned Book Week

Certain temperatures are well known. Water freezes at 32 degrees, evaporates at 212 degrees, and paper burns at 451 degrees.

Ray Bradbury’s 1953 novel “Fahrenheit 451” made famous the burning point of paper. The novel discusses the dramatic attempts the government takes to eliminate books it finds threatening.

Although book burning is not a nationwide activity, many libraries across the United States do ban books that parents and organizations challenge.

The American Library Association supports freedom in reading by hosting Banned Book Week, which was celebrated Sept. 21 to 27 at San Jacinto College. The yearly event, usually, takes place nationwide the last week of September.

Since multiple books are still banned in libraries and schools across the nation, and many more are consistently challenged, proponents of both sides remain at odds.

Central campus librarian Laura White says she believes it is necessary that every San Jac student understand the difference between the two types of restricted books.

“A challenge to a book is any attempt by a person or group to remove a book from a bookshelf or a reading list,” White says. “A ban on a book only happens when a challenge is successful, and the book is removed.”

Central campus reference librarian Tracy Timmons says there are a couple of themes that parents challenge most often.

“Books are banned because of their reference to sex, violence, drugs, witchcraft or religion; and there is fear that a young child will read the book and be persuaded based on what is published,” Timmons says.

In contrast to the many classrooms where Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” are required reading, there are schools that prohibit the reading of these classics.

The dichotomy created by the two competing perspectives results from the books’ handling of sensitive topics, White says.

“Take ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ for instance: It is a powerful novel that deals with heavy issues like racism, poverty, social inequality, and morality. ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is often challenged for the very reasons it’s powerful: the portrayal of racism and the frank, true-to-life language.”

For the most part, White says, it is not the schools challenging books, rather it is the surrounding society.

“I think the difference between a school system where a classic book is read and one where the same classic book is banned, all comes down to the community,” White says. “Some communities are able to see past the things that make them uncomfortable, like bad language, to appreciate the message of the book.”

While communities propose what books to challenge, librarians determine which books are suitable, Timmons says.

“School librarian[s] will take into account the age group and language that is appropriate for school children,” Timmons says. “Most school librarian[s] are going to be aware of banned or debated books.”

Meanwhile, on the collegiate level, White says it is up to librarians to decide whether or not to remove a book considered provocative.

“College libraries do not receive challenges to materials as frequently as school or public libraries, and are much less impacted by the controversies that often surround book challenges,” White says.

While Americans have the freedom to read anything they choose, they also have the freedom to challenge books dealing with divisive topics.

White says she does not see this practice ever dying down, “book challenging and banning has been happening for hundreds of years.”