, Salem, MA


April 18, 2014

Our view: Ever-evolving libraries still defend basic freedoms

Of all the problems threatening American youth these days, a cartoonish, cape-and-briefs-wearing character from a series of children’s books would seem to be far down on the list.

Somehow, however, the “Captain Underpants” series was deemed dangerous to young minds by enough people to land the series by Dav Pilkey in the top 10 titles on the American Library Association’s list of “Most Challenged Books.”

That Captain Underpants, accurately described by its author as “a series with no sex, no nudity, no drugs, no profanity and no more violence than a Superman cartoon” should make the list of works targeted for censorship is sillier than the plot of the books themselves. Yet, libraries have also been pressured to remove far more serious titles from their shelves, the ALA reports. “The Bluest Eye,” the novel by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, also made the list, offending some with its stark depiction of racism, incest and child molestation. Sherman Alexie’s prize-winning “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” is on there, too, as “readers” were taken aback by its drug references, sexual content and racism.

“The list shows the wide range of books that can get people rattled and touch upon their deepest fears and antagonisms,” Barbara Jones, who directs the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, told the Associated Press.

One thing is clear: Your local library has something to offend everyone.

Good, we say. Along with news organizations, libraries are among the greatest defenders of the First Amendment right of freedom of expression and, as the ALA puts it, “the corollary right to receive and consider ideas, information and images.” As we have said in this space before, public libraries are this country’s great equalizer, affording anyone with a library card and a curious mind access to a seemingly infinite treasure trove of knowledge, information and ideas.

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