UT observes Banned Books WeekWritten by Amy Biolchini | | ABiolchini@toledofreepress.com
Paulette Kilmer remembers being sent home from school for bringing “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” into the classroom. Although her teachers had not read the book, they labeled it inappropriate.
“I remember thinking, ‘People really are afraid’,” Kilmer said.
Kilmer, the founder of the Banned Books Week event at the University of Toledo, said approximately 500 students participated in the vigil last year. This is the 13th year UT will host the event. Prior to having the vigil on campus, Kilmer said she used to take her students to a Banned Books Week reading at Thackeray’s Books.
“The basic freedom — our whole way of life, our democracy, our culture, is built from this right to read and think freely. If we can’t read freely then someone can manipulate us like we’re robots. We can be programmed,” Kilmer said.
UT will host its Banned Books Week Vigil Program Sept. 30. The event begins at 9 a.m. in Sullivan Hall, room 2030, and ends with a song performance at 5:30 p.m. Speakers from various university departments and the local community will address historic and contemporary issues surrounding the First Amendment and censorship. A banned book will be given away every half hour.
Recurring themes in many banned books include sex, abuse, rape and homosexuality, said Glenn Sheldon, honors professor of humanities in the honors college at UT. Sheldon is the keynote speaker for the Sept. 30 event.
Think for yourself
Sept. 25 to Oct. 2 marks the American Library Association’s (ALA) celebration of Banned Books Week. The week’s slogan is, “Think for yourself and let others do the same.”
“The purpose of Banned Books Week is to remind people that their freedom to read is a right all Americans should hold dearly and not take for granted,” said Barbara Jones, director of the Office of Intellectual Freedom for the ALA in Chicago.
According to the Office for Intellectual Freedom, 460 challenges to books and literature were reported in 2009. None of the infractions were in Northwest Ohio.
“Books are powerful — I think ideas are powerful. We need to engage with those ideas,” Jones said. “It really doesn’t help you to ban a book — it doesn’t solve your problem or keep your kids away from these ideas either. Parents want to prevent their children from reading about drugs. Chances are, in the 21st century, children are going to find out about drugs.”
Freedom to think
“Every year, something else is going on. Last year we were talking a lot about the Harry Potter cutting parties,” Kilmer said. “The battle is never over.”
Jones, Kilmer and Sheldon discussed the national attention Pastor Terry Jones of Gainesville, Fla. garnered for threatening to burn the Quran.
“To burn a book, it doesn’t get rid of that idea,” Jones said.
“People turn mean, and they want a scapegoat. They want something and someone to blame. If they can target a book, that’s something concrete. They can take out all their frustration and anger,” Kilmer said.
Censorship in schools
Sheldon said most books are banned and challenged in K-12 school districts when the content of reading material is questioned. Sex, drugs, religion, politics and language continue to be the primary objections parents have with books their children read in school, Jones said.
About two-thirds of the challenges between 2001 and 2009 were in schools and libraries; 48 percent of all challenges came from parents.
“Some things never change. I would say in this country, political books usually don’t get censored. People continue to worry about sex and people engaging in sex too early,” Jones said. “Any books with the n-word, like ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ which has the word 58 times.”
Brian Hickam, former librarian for UT’s College of Health Science and Human Services, has been involved with the university’s Banned Books Week since he joined the staff in 2004.
“It’s about more than books. The freedom to view, listen, think,” Hickam said. “We need to uphold our freedoms and remember that censorship is always a possibility.”
This year’s event is dedicated to Hickam, who is leaving the university.
13th Annual UT Banned Books Week Vigil Program
Sept. 30, Sullivan Hall room 2030
Door prizes every half hour, snacks and coffee all day, finger food 11:30 a.m. and pizza 4:30 p.m.
- 9 a.m. “Greetings”— Dr. Marcia Suter, Director of Library Service,
“Speech, Reading & the Banning of Thoughts”
— Dr. Jim Benjamin, Chair, Communication
- 9:30 a.m. “The First Amendment and the Public Interest Standard”
— David Tucker, Communication
- 10 a.m. “Unfortunate Candor: Banning Walt Whitman”
— Tom Barden, Honors Program Director
- 10:30 a.m. “Keep the Interwebs Neutral: Non Neutrality and Censorship on the Web”
— Paul Many, Communication
- 11 a.m. “We Are Strangers” — Warren Woodbury, Toledo author
- 11:30 a.m. “Remembering Rane Arroyo, Passionate Poet, Professor, and Friend”
— Barbara Mann, English
- Noon Keynote Address (Original Poem): “The Story of Giles Corey”
— Glenn Sheldon, Honors Program
- 1 p.m. “Postcards from Prison: Censorship and the Penal System”
— Renee Heberle, Political Science
- 1:30 p.m. “Civil Rights, Civil Liberties, and the Two Faces of American Culture”
— Carter Wilson, Political Science & Law and Social Thought
- 2 “Book Burning in Nazi Germany” — Larry Wilcox, History
- 2:30 p.m. “How to Ban a Book!” — Ben Pryor, Learning Ventures
- 3 p.m. Comments from UT President Lloyd Jacobs
- 3:30 p.m. Jeopardy! — Hasan Dudar & Jason Mack, Independent Collegian
- 4 p.m. “Remembering Judith Krug: Librarian & Founder of Banned Books Week”
— Elaine Reeves, University Libraries
- 4:30 p.m. “Sexuality in Children’s Books” — Sharon Barnes, Women’s and Gender Studies
- 5 p.m. “In Moderation: Censoring Public Website Comments” — Michael S. Miller, editor in chief, Toledo Free Press
- 5:30 p.m. “Three Troubled Tunes”
— Edmund Lingan, Theatre and Film, & Risa Beth Cohen