Banned Books Week Interview

With the annual observance of Banned Books Week, September 23-29, 2018, Lincoln (Nebraska) Public Librarian and author, Sarah Dale, offers her insights on the challenges and implications of where books are most often banned.

Kathryn Schleich: Why are challenges, mounted by parents especially, so willing to try to impose censorship on their children and others. Words have power – are challengers afraid of that power?

Sarah Dale: Banned and challenged books are often more of an issue for School libraries than for Public. Lincoln City Libraries (LCL) has a system in place for items to be reviewed, if patrons request it. Very few books have actually been challenged over the years, and no book has ever been removed – in recent memory, if ever.

I think it’s pretty normal to see that kind of overprotectiveness from parents. It’s probably fear, on some levels, but I know also that with some parents, there is the wish to teach their kids about touchy subjects themselves, to impart their own values on them, at least to begin with. So, a control issue, at the very least.

KS: I’ve seen research indicating that to avoid controversy with their book collections, some librarians chose to not to select books that have any whiff of controversy. What’s your experience?

SD: I don’t believe our collections managers are at all motivated by avoiding controversy. We have plenty of books in the collection that have been banned/challenged in other communities. Again, yes, there is a vast difference between Public and School libraries here, and I know for sure that there are pretty specific limits on what can be in elementary vs middle school vs high school libraries in LPS, although I would say I believe the collections at the high school level are admirably diverse.

KS: Do you think the number of book challenges will rise or fall?

SD: If I had to predict that, I’d look at economic and political trends, things like that impact the thinking of individual communities, and I suspect that upticks in challenges probably correspond to things happening in the greater community.

KS: One of the key issues is literature portraying diverse populations/lifestyles being banned. Is that typical for books in school libraries?

SD: Yes, absolutely, those are the types of book that are banned in school settings. I believe that makes the responsibility of the public libraries that much greater. We are the place kids need to be able to go to find those books the public/private school libraries don’t believe it’s their purview to put into their collections. I think what we’ve done as a public library, and will continue to do, is to not change. We will continue to be the place of community welcome where you can access what you need, when you need it, without restrictions

KS: Last year, the school board in Biloxi, MS banned To Kill a Mockingbird due to language and adult themes. Your thoughts?

SD: Again, I see such decisions by school boards as the opportunity for parents and community members to exercise some element of control over what is available at that level. I don’t have a huge problem with it, provided that the kids have access to other sources, like, for example the Public Library. At the library, a kid who cannot put hands on a copy of that book can come in and read it at our place. They don’t even have to have a library card to come in and sit down and read. They would also find explanations and literary criticism of the book to help them make sense of it. With a library card, they could take it home, or, they could check out the ebook or audiobook version and read it either in our computer lab, or anywhere without having to leave home at all.

KS: Thank you, Sarah, for sharing your expertise and information about this always important issue.

Besides her career as a librarian, Sarah is also an author of science fiction. Her first novel, We Could Be Heroes, was published in 2015. The first book in Sarah’s Zodiac Cusp Kids series, Something Wicked, was released in May 2018 through Burning Willow Press.

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