Library Woes: Censorship and Banned Books

By: Noelle Kozak

This past summer, I had the wonderful experience of doing an internship at a library where I experienced firsthand—in a non-academic setting—people who were excited about reading. But for all its merits, it also had its downsides. Since it was summer, a lot of students came into the library with their parents looking for their ‘gasp’ SUMMER READING. Oh the horror! For a lot of these kids coming into the library was like a chore. Their parents were annoyed, they were annoyed and you could tell that they would rather be pool side than in this air conditioned building. Now, I’m not an idiot, I was in middle school once. So I know that every once and a while, you don’t like the books that are assigned to you. Yet, in the long run, I believed—and still do—that the work was for the greater good and that I gained more from reading books that I might not have chosen for myself. Occasionally there were students who came in with options—a whole list of books that their schools wanted them to choose from. Still as I sat behind the desk I saw incidents that kind of broke my heart as an English major. One young girl’s mother would not let her have a say in what she wanted to read, but insisted “oh no, you wouldn’t like that book” but for no specific reason.

In a rather indirect way, I am reminded of what Marjorie Garber mentioned in The Use and Abuse of Literature about banned books in the section “Redeeming Social Value.” A parent telling their kids what they can and can’t read—for whatever reason—is so problematic and Garber’s discussion really hit home. Throughout the essay, Garber comments on books like Ulysses, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and Lolita not being considered “real” literature because of their contents (88-9). From a scholarly perspective, she pokes fun at the notion that these and other works were challenged because so many believed that authors were trying to create “filth” rather than sophisticated commentary (92). I was particularly struck by a comment Garber inserted from Senator Livingston Blease of South Carolina who cried for censorship of Lady Chatterley’s Lover saying, ‘“the virtue of one little sixteen year old girl is worth more to America than every book that ever came into it from any other country”’(96). Though I never read the book myself, I was insulted because in only a few words the senator insulted women and moreover confidence in our youth to think critically beyond the layers of the text.

Where banned books are concerned, this is such major problem, because it is like telling youth and our society what they can/can’t understand. But, it also denies them the right to know too. Thinking back, to my library experience, I see that that mother in a way “censored” her daughter, and I wonder if it was because she thought so little of her.

Garber, Marjorie B. “Redeeming Social Value.” The Use and Abuse of Literature. New York: Pantheon, 2011. 88-97. Print   .

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Picture Credit to momentarycloudiness.blogspot.com

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