The J. Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah is celebrating Forbidden Book Week this year with events themed, “Books Unite Us.” Censorship divides us.
After a wave of challenges and attempts to ban books across the country, the American Library Association launched Forbidden Books Week in 1982.
Held in the last week of September, Forbidden Book Week attempts to bring together librarians, booksellers, teachers and more to support free speech and open access to information.
The role of libraries in the face of the challenges of literature
This year, the Marriott Library is celebrating Forbidden Book Week with a treasure hunt and deposit.
From September 27 to October 1, the library will be posting hints on its social media about where to find “book covers” placed throughout the library. If they find one, a student can exchange their cover for the forbidden book it represents.
On September 28, the library will present to educate members of the campus community about prohibited books.
Heidi Brett, director of marketing and public relations for the Marriott Library, said the American Library Association tries to bring together the voices of libraries in the face of the challenges of literature.
Brett said it’s important to recognize the importance of intellectual freedom.
“Our freedom of expression is very important, and it is essential that we recognize that censorship exists in our society and the importance of staying abreast of potential censorship and the ban on intellectual content,” he said. she declared.
According to Brett, libraries are essential in defending freedom of information when books are challenged.
“We want students to know that we are running these events because we want students to understand how important their access to IP is and how critical it is that we don’t take it for granted,” a- she declared.
Lyuba Basin, the curator of rare books at the Marriott Library, started at the library while earning her undergraduate degree in English and Linguistics, and fell in love with the power of books to tell the reader the same about history. , culture, society and politics.
The Marriott Library Rare Book Collection features two digital exhibits focusing on prohibited books and censorship. Organized in 2015 by Luise Poulton, Hush! presents forbidden books through the ages. The second exhibition, entitled Radical !, focuses on censorship and dissent, and was curated in 2020 by Basin herself.
Through his background in studying comparative literary and cultural history, Basin learned about the dangers of censorship.
“I have come to learn about so many different cultures, religions, societies and histories that I never could have [learned about] just through basic reading, ”she said. “So even though the books are controversial or even though the books are from a different culture than mine, reading this material gives me a little insight. It empathizes with the reader.
Break the week of forbidden books
Each year, the American Library Association publishes its “Top 10 Most Contested Books List,” with 2020 bringing 156 challenges to materials and services in libraries, schools, and universities.
Of the 273 books targeted, the most contested was Alex Gino’s “George” because of its LGBTQIA + content in conflict with religious viewpoints.
Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” was one of the most frequently contested books, it was first temporarily banned in 1977 for its use of the words “damn” and “bitch lady”.
In 2020, it ranked No. 7, being banned and challenged “for racial slurs and its negative effect on students, featuring a character of” white savior “and his perception of the black experience.”
Erika George, director of the Tanner Humanities Center and professor at SJ Quinney College of Law, said this novel is particularly close to his heart. She called it “an incredible success,” which speaks to some of the challenges of the criminal justice system.
“I can’t tell you how many law professors, lawyers, colleagues and friends who have dogs named Atticus,” she said. “So this is really a hero’s story for the lawyers who ask the legal system not to be an unfair system.”
George explained the regional differences in the reasons for the book’s ban, noting how in the North, black parents were concerned about racial slurs and epithets used, while in the South, people were concerned about portray whites as racists.
“And as we come out of the aftermath of Black Lives Matter, protests and uprisings, we really need to think deeply about our criminal justice system,” she said. “I find it simply fascinating that a literary text novel addresses many challenges and issues on which the law has hesitated to move forward as quickly as one might hope.”
The Tanner Humanities Center is also participant at Forbidden Books Week this year, asking faculty members to choose a banned book and discuss it with students.
“As a College of Humanities, we host English, we host history, we reflect on how we understand what it’s like to be human,” said George. “The literature helps us to increase this understanding and to deepen our knowledge. “
As a constitutional law professor and former ACLU board member, George is interested in censorship and the implications of limiting the imagination and creativity, which she says are encouraged by books.
“So I was very interested… in the implications of banning books, allowing ideas to have the opportunity to be heard, and what we lose when we don’t expose ourselves to different ideas or ideas. stories that were imagined, ”she said.
According to George, this year’s Forbidden Book Week is particularly important in Utah due to the recent challenges in subjects such as critical race theory taught in schools.
“For me, Forbidden Book Week is important because it addresses issues of freedom of expression and the corollary right to receive information,” she said. “So expression is also about having an audience and it’s not just about silencing a speaker or a writer, but the readers are part of that too.”
George thinks challenging content like this is too broad an action.
“We can be more expansive in our understanding and trust people to work with ideas and information,” she said.
According to George, the conversation around books should be different from that of tweets, which she says are fleeting and shocking.
“When we look at the literature and the creative process and the books that have been written and banned over the years, they’ve really contributed to a conversation about what America is, about who we are as a people,” she declared.
George wanted the Tanner Humanities Center to be part of Banned Book Week this year because she was concerned about efforts to ban particular content nationwide.
“When we censor specific ideas or information or don’t invite creativity and imagination into literature, I think we are doing more to damage and divide than to unite and educate and inform and potentially inspire,” he said. she declared.
George said there is a need in modern society for greater understanding – an understanding that can be achieved through an expansion of knowledge provided by literature.
“So taking information out of the general space of ideas, labeling it as bad, bogus, forbidden, has a long history, and it’s been sad and sordid,” she said. “Over time, history has shown that forbidden literature has grown into one of America’s greatest novels.”