Libraries celebrate freedom to read with Banned Books Week

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Sep. 28—Libraries, teachers, publishers, booksellers and avid readers are marking the annual Banned Books Week, a national initiative that celebrates the freedom to read, seek information and share ideas.

The initiative aims to spotlight books and other materials that have faced challenges, or attempts to remove or restrict them, or have been outright banned.

Challenges and bans are most often made in the interest of protecting others from topics deemed offensive or inappropriate, and they are most often made by parents. But censorship of constitutionally protected speech violates the First Amendment — a point that the American Library Association emphasizes each year during Banned Books Week.

"Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that parents — and only parents — have the right and the responsibility to restrict the access of their children — and only their children — to library resources," the association says in its policy governing access to information.

As with previous years, LGBTQ+ content dominated the list of the most challenged and banned books of 2020. As the country continues to address the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, a Black man, last summer at the hands of a white police officer, the list also includes a number of titles that address racism and racial justice, as well as titles that share the stories of Black or Indigenous people or other people of color, according to the library association.

The Joplin Public Library will recognize the week with a cart of books on display in the lobby, curated by Laura Horn, a member of the reference staff. The display includes items from the American Library Association's top 100 banned and challenged books of the past decade, library director Jeana Gockley said.

"A key role of the Joplin Public Library is to provide access to information for our community members," she said. "While the library has limited and finite resources, we strive to have something for everyone, that is representative of everyone, in the collection. Banned Books Week is the perfect time to highlight and honor our freedom to read."

Across the state line, Pittsburg (Kansas) State University will host a variety of events to explore the topic of censorship during Banned Books Week.

A banned books exhibit in the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts art gallery is free and open to the public.

The first wall of the gallery contains photos and a display of items associated with controversial Southeast Kansas publisher E. Haldeman Julius, who published millions of the famed Little Blue Books. The second wall will focus on book burnings and the world of virtual censorship. The third and final wall will pose questions to patrons regarding their thoughts on censorship. Art supplies will be available to patrons to allow interaction with the exhibit.

"Hopefully it will cause people who see it to pause and reflect," said Ruth Monnier, learning outreach librarian, in a statement. "It's not a static exhibit, and there will be opportunities for people to engage and interact."

Regional high schools have been invited to participate in the Banned Books Showcase, a conference Tuesday that is sponsored by PSU Library Services and the English department. Author Chris Crutcher, who has had every one of his books banned or challenged, will be the keynote speaker. There also will be sessions by other authors on the topics of censorship and banned books.

"An Evening with Chris Crutcher: Books Unite. Censorship Divides" will start at 5 p.m. Tuesday in the Bicknell Center. The lecture will include a short question-and-answer session, and Crutcher also will sign books in the lobby afterward. The event is free and open to the public. It is sponsored by the Albertini family, the Office of Student Diversity, Student Government Association and the English department.

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