SALT LAKE CITY — When people are suspected of criminal behavior, they may be booked. When books are suspected of offensive conduct, they may be banned.
Books are considered challenged when parents, patrons and others urge book-distributing institutions to pull certain books from the shelves based on content. A ban occurs when schools and libraries stop distributing those materials because of the complaints, according to the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom.
Classics such as "The Great Gatsby" and "Gone With the Wind," along with contemporary novels such as the "Harry Potter" series and "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" are among the books banned from some schools and public libraries in the U.S. over the past two decades.
Students, librarians and community members publicly disclosed their views of the destructive nature of censorship and importance of the freedom to read Wednesday by sharing excerpts from banned and challenged books outside the University of Utah's J. Willard Marriott Library. The event was part of national Banned Books Week.
Librarian Robert Nelson said he believes censorship of literature at public institutions is against freedom of speech and is the first step to a totalitarian society. He said that he hopes that message got across at the event.
"It's important to err on the side of inclusion instead of exclusion," Nelson said. "It's harder to expand your horizons and knowledge without looking at things that challenge what you would normally read, so I not only allow but seek out books that have been banned in my library and reading."
Nelson said he gained his appreciation for the Freedom to Read movement when the 60-year-old librarian in his small town stood up to the school board when parents tried to ban "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" from his middle school library because of its sexual content.
Nelson said seeing the librarian use all the energy she could muster to promote what she believed inspired him to stand for the same things when he became a librarian.
Jeannette Culas rummaged through the pages of her favorite book, "Speak" by Laurie Hale Anderson, at the Freedom to Read event. "Speak" ranked No. 60 in the most frequently banned and challenge book list of the 1990s, according to the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom.
Culas said she feels grateful to have the opportunity to read her favorite book because it talks about sexual abuse — a subject she believes needs addressing but is hard to talk about.
"I think a lot of controversial issues are better taught through literature than in person because people put up barriers with people but connect to written stories," she said. "People don't like to read these things at first, but it is good for them — like vegetables."
Linda St. Clair, U. event coordinator and librarian, said although books are challenged, it is a rare occurrence for books to be banned in Utah. Public relations specialist Heidi Brett said the University of Utah refuses to ban books and instead gives students access to a broad range of opinions.
"We live in a society where we have freedom of speech and freedom of thought, and intellectual freedom is at the core of our democratic society, so we need to be careful that we are never censoring no matter what the subject matter is," Brett said.
The Salt Lake City Public Library System is also celebrating Banned Book Week. Each location is hosting a continual banned-book read-in and is offering patrons $1 off overdue fines for every 10 minutes of banned-book reading through Saturday.
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