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Delta County Libraries: Preserving the freedom to read

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Photo submitted Library assistant Shayna Peters stands by a display of banned books at the Delta Library.

Mark Twain, Toni Morrison, Dee Brown, Maurice Sendak, Walt Whitman, Margaret Mitchell, Jack London, Cesar Chavez. These authors share a heavy burden. Along with a number of others, they have all written books that were selected by the Library of Congress as "Books That Shaped America" for their unique role in this nation's literary heritage. And they have all been banned or challenged by schools, institutions and individuals for various reasons.

Libraries seek to bring to light the effects of book banning during Banned Book Week, which takes place this week, Sept. 27-Oct. 3. While challenges to books and authors take place year-round, this one week is intended to celebrate the freedom to read and highlight some of the exceptional literature that has been banned over the years. Delta County Libraries is participating by offering banned book displays and lists of challenged titles, encouraging patrons to consider the powerful effect that censorship could have on the materials available in libraries.

"When books are banned, for whatever reason, something of value is lost to everyone," says library district director Annette Choszczyk. "In the former Soviet Union, book banning was taken to a high level. Librarians were given a list of the books to be purged from libraries and they had to turn those books in to be destroyed. If they did not, they lost their jobs. Librarians were in tears as their favorite authors' books disappeared and were no longer available for anyone to read. Purged books were also no longer for sale, so those books were, literally, lost for everyone."

Open access to information is not guaranteed everywhere in the world, but in the United States patrons might be surprised at the numbers and titles of books that would disappear if libraries did not take a stand against censorship, as challenges come in many forms and for many reasons. According to the American Library Association website, "A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others."

"Young Adult books are challenged more frequently than any other type of book," said Judith Platt, chair of the Banned Books Week national committee. "These are the books that speak most immediately to young people, dealing with many of the difficult issues that arise in their own lives, or in the lives of their friends.These are the books that give young readers the ability to safely explore the sometimes scary real world. This Banned Books Week is a call to action, to remind everyone that young people need to be allowed the freedom to read widely, to read books that are relevant for them, and to be able to make their own reading choices."

Choszczyk firmly agrees with the principles of Banned Books Week, but she does not want to make the libraries unwelcoming places for patrons who might be uncomfortable with certain titles. "We are not asking people to read books that go against their values and beliefs," she stresses. "We are simply hoping that patrons will think about exercising their own discrimination without limiting opportunities for others."

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