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Local libraries highlight "challenged" books during Banned Books Week

Sep 29, 2015

Nathalie Crick with the Pitkin County Library holds a book that made the top ten list for the most challenged books of 2014. The list is compiled by the Office for Intellectual Freedom.
Credit Marci Krivonen

Libraries around the Roaring Fork Valley have on display this week books like The Kite Runner and The Bluest Eye. These works made the top ten list in 2014 for the “most frequently challenged books.” Schools and libraries across the country have received requests to ban them. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen has more on Banned Books Week.

Nathalie Crick looks up a book at the Pitkin County Library and then weaves through shelves in the children’s section to find it.

She’s holding It’s Perfectly Normal: A Book About Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health. It’s another book that made the top ten list for “most challenged.”

The Pitkin County Library is displaying the top ten list on its website. Other libraries in the Valley have the actual books on display.
Credit Marci Krivonen

"It’s probably because it has sexual content. You may not want this in everybody’s hands. I think it should be a parent’s decision," she says.

The top ten list comes from the Office for Intellectual Freedom, a division of the American Library Association. Since the 1980s, the office has been holding Banned Books Week. This year it kicked off on Sunday. Barbara Jones is director.

"We want to create awareness and encourage advocacy," she says. "A lot of people aren’t aware that books are still being banned in the 21st century."

Her office takes reports of books banned from public and school libraries.

"We get one to two phone calls per day from librarians who have been asked to remove a book or are having a problem with a local community group, in terms of an individual title (of a book), so it’s still pretty common."

Reporter: "What are the most common reasons for a book to be banned?"

Jones: "In this country, sex, sex and sex. The other reason, in young adult literature, the darkness. They’ll say that something like the Hunger Games is too dark for young people to read - that it may cause them to get depressed or commit suicide."

Back in the Pitkin County Library, Kurt who preferred not to give his last name, is looking up music materials. He’s against censorship.

"You can’t introduce certain topics to children until you as a parent - I don’t know, I’m not one - would deem that appropriate. There’s certainly a right to do that. But to deny access, I don’t think is the right avenue to take."

The librarians here agree. Typically they set up displays showcasing the “challenged” books during Banned Books Week. This year they’re limited by space so the top ten list is on the library’s website. Genevieve Smith is a collection librarian.

"Librarians have always been advocates for intellectual freedom and free access to information and censorship is going down. So this week is also a celebration of that."

The library has a policy that outlines a formal process for challenging a book. But…

"...Luckily - and I’ve talked to people who have been here 30-plus years - we’ve never had anyone challenge a book," says Smith.

Martha Durgy of the library says a German news source was challenged once, though.

"We did have someone challenge a magazine cover. The journal was “Der Spiegel,” and there was nudity on the cover. We had a patron find that very objectionable. We left it on the rack and put a piece of paper over the cover."

She’s in charge of programming and says next year, the library will hold a community conversation around two or three of the books on the annual list and why they’re challenged.

If you want to check out a book on this year’s list, good luck. Nathalie Crick with the library says, "People want to know why books are challenged and they want to form their own opinion of a book, so they're all checked out."

Click here to see the full list of challenged books.