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In defense of a library banning books

By Benjamin Wetmore

This month, librarians celebrate ‘Banned Books Week’ to highlight the tepid and tame ‘banning’ of a few dozen supposed classics of American literature. These bans were typically done by school administrators or school boards seeking to protect their children from bad words, bad ideas, or sometimes bad overall values. 

This peculiar holiday is held every year, and this year it happens to be from September 26 through October 2. 

It is sponsored by the American Library Association, booksellers, various groups, and notably the far-left People for the American Way.  

They claim the event is about ‘intellectual freedom’ and the ‘freedom to read.’  

But there are plenty of books our culture bans quite regularly today that seem to escape the notice of the group. In fact, just recently, Senator Elizabeth Warren begged Amazon to start banning more books, ones she deemed to insufficiently toe the line about the COVID pandemic.  

Amazon regularly bans entire categories of books it dislikes, regardless of their sales volume. Amazon is a serial banner of books, molding and shaping the public’s views along its strict ideological views. 

Amusingly Amazon even hosts a section on its website, offering for sale books that other people had banned. Not available in that Amazon section, of course, are books that Amazon itself had banned.  

The “Banned Books Coalition” offers a small list of what they think were wrongly banned books. 

None of the books currently in controversy are on their list. Instead, they pick and choose these little tomes from 50 years ago. Then, they highlight the controversy of a middle school removing a book from its dusty, mostly unused school library, because a parent was concerned it promoted destructive personal lifestyles or included racial epithets.  

The banners of books in years past weren’t just repressed conservative housewives as the Twitter commentariat would have you believe, they were also the militant liberals who still today regularly ban and suppress books and views they dislike. Puritanical liberalism has burnt more books in protest than any right-wing mob of moms has ever dreamed of doing. 

Social science research shows that right-thinking individuals are more tolerant of diverse views than those on the left. The right has empathy and understanding for left-wing views, though they reject them. The left cannot even fathom why someone on the right would think the way they do. They tolerate no dissent. 

This little exercise, the made-up event and holiday here, is a way for left-leaning people to feel intellectually tolerant even though all indications prove otherwise. It is a way for college-educated folks with ten books on their home bookshelf to feel morally superior to little folks they sneer their noses at while talking about and enjoying books aimed at pre-teens.  

The website Goodreads also maintains a list of books commonly challenged in schools. One book on the list is Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn

Now, this book might be considered a classic, but it also features a very disparaging black character and repeatedly uses what we would today call racial epithets. However, many would make a good point that using such a book is a ‘teachable moment’ and offers ways to confront those past attitudes and prejudices. 

But it’s also true that it’s understandable that such language makes a lot of people, parents, students, and even teachers, uncomfortable.  

It’s understandable that parents and others would seek to remove that book from the library. It would be the simplest way to avoid uncomfortable topics at inappropriate ages. 

The book banners from years past never agitated to ban books from booksellers nationwide. They were never of the mindset to remove the book from existence altogether. Yet, that’s the modern viewpoint for divergent and alternative views: total elimination. 

Indeed, to examine the list of books one wonders what was ever so prurient as to require outside intervention. The action of banning a book seems extreme, unnecessary, and prone to generate what some have called the “Streisand Effect.” The Streisand effect is when banning or censoring something, the person trying to hide the thing inadvertently brings so much attention to the thing that it guarantees it will be heard and more widely understood. 

While it might be counterproductive for libraries to ban books, often they’re political institutions responding to political pressure. The librarians and school board members are not little petit totalitarians trying to reign in the intellectual scope of their students.

More often, and more likely, they’re people trying to get through the day when a concerned parent calls in, or when a local activist pressures the board, representing a group of people in a democracy agitating to take the simple action of removing a book from the library. 

Those librarians that banned individual books responded to pressure. Often, their actions had the happy consequence of letting controversial books remain as long as no one pushed to remove those individual books. 

Now, we have librarians and a society so afraid of controversy altogether that any controversial idea that doesn’t fit with the approved mainstream agenda is suppressed and eliminated.  

It’s much better to ban individual books than it is to ban entire ideas, schools of thought, subjects, and entire people.  

It’s much better for a school librarian to meekly take a book out of circulation than it is for that same librarian to be too scared to put out a controversial book in the first place. It’s much better for a school to withdraw a single book from circulation than it is for major monopolistic booksellers to deplatform authors, topics, and subjects wholesale. 

Some people are so prideful and vain to think we live in an era of intellectual freedom. They pat themselves on the back for their open-mindedness while they ban books through other means. 

Few seem to care or protect truly diverse viewpoints, things that actually make you think and reconsider your own opinions. That is the social environment we should work towards: a place where people can voice competing views without being so offended, without trying to cancel one another. 

Celebrating ‘banned books’ while ignoring the ongoing banning of books is a powerful statement of our age’s internal inconsistencies and hypocrisies.

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Benjamin Wetmore

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