Thursday, June 18, 2009

Challenged versus Banned

I thought I'd just pause for a moment and explain the difference between "challenged" and "banned," in case you're confused, Gentle Readers. Challenged just means that someone (almost always a parent) has asked someone else (almost always a librarian but sometimes a school board, book store, church, or government official) to remove a book from circulation. Banned means that the challenge was successful.

I point this out because the terms have different legal meanings. The case law surrounding censorship and book banning is long and complex. I'm neither qualified nor interested in laying it all out here. There are some excellent books available on the topic (if they haven't been banned yet, that is) if you really want to learn more. I recommend Banned in the USA, A Reference Guide to Book Censorship in Schools and Public Libraries by Herbert Foerstel.

In writing this blog, I've learned that challenges happen all the time but official bannings are (thankfully!) less common. The thing worth remembering amid all this fuss is that just because someone asked a librarian to remove a book, it doesn't mean that the librarian did it.

So, give it up for librarians, everyone! Kurt Vonnegut said it better than me so I'll let him take over from here...

"And on the subject of burning books: I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength or their powerful political connections or their great wealth, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and have refused to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.

So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the House of Representatives or the media. The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries." - Kurt Vonnegut, I Love You, Madame Librarian, 2004.


  1. Excellent blog entry!
    Enjoyed reading it.

    During the last weeks we were involved in such a case you wrote about. Parents "challenged" some several book but the library didn't ban them.

    If you are interested in such cases or wanna read more about this special case just join our blog:

    We're glad about a lot comments as well as a lively dicussion on our blog!

    Jana (Member of NCAC - National Coalition Against Censorship)

  2. Hi!

    One more:

    On June 18, the Litchfield District School Board in New Hampshire decided to remove four short stories from the “Love/Gender/Family” unit of an upper-class elective English class at Campbell High School. The stories, including “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway, “Survivor Type” by Stephen King, “The Crack Cocaine Diet” by Laura Lippman, and “I Like Guys” by David Sedaris.

    The Kid’s Right to Read Project interviewed Andy Towne, a member of the Class of 2007 at Campbell High School after he authored an op-ed for the Nashua Telegraph about the School Board’s decision in Litchfield.

    Here’s the link:

    I think you could be very interested in this, too!
    Spread the word!

    Jana (Member of NCAC)

  3. Jana, you are awesome! I'm checking out the links (and the NCAC blog) now.