Sunday, September 28, 2008

Banned Books Week -- welcome!

He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves, and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper."
- Edmund Burke
While public libraries do not enjoy having challenges to materials, they provide some evidence that we're doing our jobs. We are equal opportunity offenders: we may not try to antagonize anyone, but we have to be willing to antagonize -- and thus help -- everyone.

Needless to say, this valuable social function often lacks for appreciation. The citizens of Athens executed Socrates in 399 B.C. after he was found guilty of promoting dangerous ideas. But in a nation founded on the belief that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness," we can hope that executions for ideas are unlikely.

In order to constitute our nation, our society needed to guarantee these rights. The very first amendment to the U.S. Constitution says "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech..." It follows that the freedom to speak requires the freedom to listen and the freedom to write requires the freedom to read.

But even if we don't execute people for ideas, some ideas and ideologies will be popular, some will be controversial, and some may be persecuted. Things that are innocuous to some will be offensive or threatening to others. And public libraries have an obligation to select materials that present a broad spectrum of thought and values of our communities.

From the American Library Association: Banned Books Week...
celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them. After all, intellectual freedom can exist only where these two essential conditions are met.
Welcome to Banned Books Week 2008!

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