There were several disturbing photos on the front page of the Gadsden Times a couple of days ago. The images were of Gadsden Public Library director Amanda Jackson and yours truly pulling banned and challenged books off of the shelves of our library. These books were temporarily taken out of circulation to the public and will remain out of circulation until September 23rd, which is the date of our first Banned Books Week Gadsden Reads Fahrenheit 451 program. On September 23rd, we will put all those books back on the shelves from which they were pulled and celebrate their being released back into public circulation. During the month that our banned/challenged books are out of circulation, any student who needs any of those books for a school assignment will be allowed to check those books out. Otherwise, those books are not available to the general public.
Why is the GPL doing this? That is a question that I have been asked many times in the past three days by concerned citizens who saw the photos in the Gadsden Times of the books being removed. My answer is this: As American citizens, we have access to, and the right to read any book that we desire at any time we desire it. We have earned this “freedom to read” by virtue of being a democracy, a democracy that has been defended by its citizens and its armed forces for a very long time. Our pulling of the banned and challenged books from our GPL collection for a few weeks will be inconvenient, but it will not be anything like the inconvenience that people all over the world experience every day of their lives when they are denied access to information-a denial of access to information that is not temporary.
This is an exercise in experiencing what it would be like to not have access to Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends and Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. But it is also an exercise in experiencing what it would be like to not have access to Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House On the Prairie and Martin Hanford’s Where’s Waldo. To Kill A Mockingbird. Webster’s Dictionary. The Holy Bible. All of these books have been challenged and/or banned here in the United States and all over the world.
But what the GPL is doing is just an exercise. Next month all these books will be back on the shelves of our public library, and we will go back to living our lives the way we were living them. But if even one person in Gadsden thinks differently about the relationship between books and reading to a healthy society, if one person in Gadsden is more willing to stand up for their Freedom to Read, if one person in Gadsden is more likely to call their local library to fight to have challenged books put back on their shelves, then we will have accomplished what we set out to accomplish for Banned Books Week Gadsden Reads.
And as for all of the folks here in Gadsden with whom I’ve spoken over the past couple of days, folks who saw the photos in the Gadsden Times and were concerned that we were removing books permanently from our collection, folks who saw the photos in the Gadsden Times were worried that something terrible was happening in their community, I want to thank you for your concerns and for your calls. I am thankful that you noticed something was wrong and that you spoke up. I am thankful that you were willing to stand up for your right to read and to fight to keep books on the shelves of your public library. I am thankful for your vigilance.
Banned Books Week Gadsden Reads Fahrenheit 451 is supported by funds granted through the Freedom to Read Foundation Judith F. Krug Memorial Fund.
More on our September programs soon.