Banned Books Week Banner

Originally uploaded by DML East Branch

If you click on the photo of the banned books banner, you’ll be directed to its Flickr home, and you’ll be able to hover over each book to discover what it is. An interesting theme – banned books.

Censorship. It takes me back to when, as an Australian of Russian descent, I attended a Saturday Russian language school (RS, we used to call it), during the time when our parents’ fear of Russian communism was raw. My own grandfather witnessed his father being shot at the age of six. The censorship that ensued at Russian School (RS), through the eyes of young people, took on a comical aspect. The more paranoid members of our community (am I being unkind?) decided to protect us from ‘evil’ by eliminating our exposure to all things Soviet (which means ‘council’, by the way). We spent our Saturdays drawn like moths to the flame, peering through thick black texta-covered chunks of text through the light, or trying to unstick glued pages. In most cases, our discoveries left us disappointed or confused when the forbidden words revealed themselves as ‘pioneers’ (soviet scouts) or the date of a celebration we weren’t supposed to know about.

Thinking back, it would have been more helpful to have had some discussion about the taboos, but I think that experiences were so raw that distance was needed before reflection could take place.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s death, so close to Book Week, has made me think about the importance of free speech. Recently, the controversy about Bill Henson’s photography brought the theme of censorship into the media.

What do I think is important here? Discussion. Free expression and lots of discussion. Bring it out to a forum, educate people, try to understand where people are coming from. We don’t have to agree, but an understanding of others’ views will provide a larger picture and the respect needed for us to live together.

Our school is highlighting banned and challenged books for Book Week. It’s always interesting, and sometimes humorous, to see who banned what and for what reason. Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s adventures in wonderland was banned in China 1931 for the portrayal of anthropomorphised animals; Animal farm by George Orwell was delayed in publication in the UK because of its anti-Stalinist theme, confiscated in Germany by Allied troops, banned in Yugoslavia 1946, in Kenya 1991, and in the United Arab Emirates 2002; Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s lover was temporarily banned in the United States, UK and Australia for violation of obscenity laws. Is it considered obscene now? And of course, Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago and A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich were banned in the Soviet Union because they told the truth. The list is long.

Banned books and censorship – a fertile ground for discussion. What is the teacher librarian’s role here?

4 thoughts on “Censorship”

  1. Well spoken blog! I can’t count the number of times as a child that my friends and I would strive harder to find out what was being kept secret from us than if we were spoken with about it. You propose a unique question, how does a teacher librarian create that discussion with their students?

    I would say that being open to all types of media, which you definitely are, is always the first step. Most likely, the biggest issue you could hope to address as a teacher librarian is a very important one; What is your school’s policy, how do they handle those challenges that do arise?

    Thank you for featuring the flag we’ve made for the event. Please feel free to use it in your library, though I can understand the quirks of putting up an American flag in an Australian school library. And if you have any questions, or want to discuss censorship, feel free to email me.
    -Eric Wirick
    Dayton Metro Library

  2. Thanks for the comment, Eric. Especially love connecting with people from afar. Putting up the American flag isn’t inappropriate since so many books have been banned in America. I’m still in the process of researching books that have been banned in Australia.

  3. I know that several of the books in the large list kept by the American Library Association have been banned/restricted/challenged in Australia. The only one that sticks out in my mind is “The Final Exit” by Derek Humphry. This book was banned completely from Australia shortly after it was published. I’m uncertain if it’s still banned or if that has been lifted yet. I’d be interested in seeing which has taken place with that.

    I can send you the other handful of titles when I’m back in the office on monday.
    -Eric Wirick
    Dayton Metro Library

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