HOW TO BRING A BOOK BACK INTO CIRCULATION
Once a book is banned, is it forever? After all, our societal standards over language, sex, and other controversial issues, change with time. A major problem with restricting access to literature is that, once a book is banned, there’s often no formal way to bring it back.
Many school districts claim to have reconsideration procedures once a book is removed from library shelves. However, last year 455 districts – more than half of those who responded to our Texas-wide survey – reported that all decisions are final. This means there is no way for a teacher, student, or community member to appeal the decision and reevaluate whether a book belongs in schools.
The ability to revisit situations and free access to information is key to democracy. It is crucial that, in due time, when it becomes clear that Harry Potter readers do not take up witchcraft and put spells on their teachers, or that the values put forth by a book like To Kill a Mockingbird are ones we should aspire to rather than fear, students, parents, librarians, teachers and school administrators have a way to bring a book back into circulation.
In the best of worlds, when a parent challenges a book, this can be a good way to create a community-wide discussion. Educators are forced to read, perhaps for the first time, literature that is popular with their students. Parents are encouraged to see what their children are drawn to and jump into their world.
Whether it’s the Gossip Girl series – nearly banned for sexual content at Vandegrift High School this year – or a memoir by an 18-year-old Iraq War veteran, challenged for its violent language, isn’t it better to explore and discuss what students are interested in than to think we can keep them in the dark? Certainly this was true with the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird in the 1960’s and continues to be true today.
Above all, when books are restricted or banned, there must be a way to revisit the situation. Ask your local school librarian: have any books been banned in recent years? Is there a way to re-open the discussion? How long must you wait?