As a part of National Banned Books Week, Ladd Library organized a series of mid-day talks by Bates professors about censorship across history and the world. The library is also placing a selection of books about censorship by the front entrance for easy accessibility.
The speaker series was one of many events across the country for National Banned Books Week. Organized by the American Library Association (ALA), Banned Book Week is meant to remind readers of “the importance of intellectual freedom.” ALA literature available at each talk listed out some of the most often censored and challenged books from the last years and celebrated protesters from around the world who helped keep the books available in their towns and schools. In addition to local libraries, the ALA partnered with organizations like the American Booksellers Association and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. The week has been celebrated since 1982.
At Bates, each lecture focused on censorship in a different part of the world or era of history. The series kicked off with a talk by professor Stephanie Pridgeon about book burning and confiscation during a period of dictatorship in Argentina. Other topics included censorship in Nazi Germany, Post-World War II Japan, and 1980s Iran.
While the lecture series had focused primarily on censorship issues in the United States in previous years, librarian Laura Juraska decided to give this year’s proceedings a more international flair after some staff outreach.
“Last year we did a U.S. based [speaker series], but one of the professors in the German department sent an email because he wanted to talk about his specialty,” said Juraska.
The library staff also put out a selection of recommended books about censorship near the front of the building. Like the lectures they accompany, the books cover censorship issues from both around the world and in America.
Book censorship still occurs regularly throughout the country, usually in schools and local libraries. The ALA keeps track of “challenges” to a book made throughout the country. Books challenged in the last year included classic works by authors like Maya Angelou, Ian McEwan, Toni Morrison, and Mark Twain. Complaints ranged from thematic concerns and explicit issues to problems with a book’s “poor grammar and sentence structure.”
For English Professor Tiffany Salter, who spoke about book banning in both Iran and the United States, keeping challenged books available to the public is important because they can foster conversations and help people find out about themselves.
“Having these kinds of books from a young age, books that address topics that some might find problematic. It’s addressing life,” said Salter.
The idea of banned books being important for young people trying to find their identity was an important part of Salter’s lecture, which partially focused on challenges to the young adult graphic novel This One Summer by Marika and Jillian Tamaki. The book, a coming of age story about two preteen girls, was banned in school libraries Minnesota and Florida.
Juraska echoed Salter’s and also emphasized how pervasive book censorship can be.
“There are these things [book banning] that happen in a lot of towns. It’s a part of our conflicted society,” said Juraska.
As befitting a Bates event, hot chai, cider, and cookies were available at each Banned Books Week lecture. The selection of books about censorship are still on display.