Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A hero against censorship

Over the past weekend, blogs and Twitter were all aflame over alleged censorship by Amazon, but they mostly missed the passing of a real hero in the fight against censorship. Judith Krug, the founder of the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week, died Saturday, aged 69, after a long battle with stomach cancer.

Krug had been head of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom since 1967. Banned Books Week has been observed the last week of September since 1982.

I first heard of Banned Books Week in 1984 when I was living in Chicago and visited an independent neighbourhood bookstore (back when there were such things…). I saw a few well-known books displayed in a cage, along with information about Banned Books Week.

Filled with righteous indignation, I set out to read books on the “most frequently challenged” list of the day “while they’re still legal,” I told people (click the link to see a list of: Banned and Challenged Classics). This was in the era of Reagan, when official suppression of intellectual freedom and censorship of free expression seemed not only possible, but likely. I bought and wore a button that said, “I read banned books.”

So, in my own small way, I tried to help promote Banned Books Week, but until now, I never knew what person was behind it. Judith Krug deserves our thanks for all her efforts to prevent censorship. “Censorship dies in the light of day,” she said. It was usually thankless, often ridiculed work, but vital to a functioning democracy. We should honour her efforts, and those of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom generally, by making sure we observe Banned Books Week September 26–October 3, 2009. It’s a small thing, but it’ll help bring a little "light of day" to stop the forces of censorship.

Update 12 August 2009: I clicked on the ALA's Banned Books Week-related links in this post—they were dead. You'd think of all people librarians would realise the need to have links redirect, wouldn't you? But, no. So, I manually updated those links, and changed the banned list link because it looks like they don’t have the one I originally linked to any more. Sigh! If even librarians can't maintain access to information, what hope is there for the rest of us?


Nessa said...

How sad she passed away. Thanks for ppsting this. I always take for granted thar if i want to read something I can find it.

I looked at the lists for the most challenged books and have read a good number of them when I was younger, some of them mandated by the school system. People want to make life too sterile. Life is no good without some sort of mischief. Better it be in a book then being bored and causing the mischief themselves.

sorry for the misspellings, i am lazy.

Arthur Schenck said...

I think one of the most important things to remember is that censorship doesn't know any one ideology. Sure, radical right christianist extremists are especially active in censorship, but the left has dabbled in it, too. The left obviously has a higher moral purpose when it goes down that road, but they're equally as wrong as someone spouting medieval superstitious nonsense.

All of which is why I added a little mischief of my own in this response…