September 24-30, 2017, marked the most recent installment of Banned Books Week. Created in 1982 by the American Library Association (ALA), Banned Books Week calls attention to books that have been challenged or banned by local, state, or federal organizations (particularly libraries and schools), emphasizing the importance of free speech and expression. Described by the ALA as the ”annual celebration of the freedom to read,” Banned Books Week is held every year during the last week of September.
In celebration of Banned Books Week, the new cohort of the Karabots Junior Fellows took their first trip to the Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. There they met with Beth Lander and Caitlin Angelone, the Library’s College Librarian and Reference Librarian, respectively, who introduced them to the diverse materials the Historical Medical Library has to offer. During their visit, the students entered the library stacks, the climate-controlled space in which the College of Physicians’ vast collection of medical-related books and manuscripts are stored. In the spirit of Banned Books Week, they also viewed several books in the collection that have been challenged for various reasons, including books related to witchcraft and sexual health.
Following their trip to the Library, the students returned to the classroom to discuss the tenets of Banned Books Week. Youth Program Coordinator Kevin Impellizeri challenged them to consider the definitions of “censorship” and “obscenity” and critically examine why individuals or groups would attempt to challenge access to a particular book. They came to the conclusion that “objectionable material” is largely in the eye of the beholder, shaped by a wide variety of factors, including taste, cultural norms, and religious beliefs; as a result, there is no one shared standard for obscenity. They then applied what they learned by going through numerous influential books that have been challenged or banned, including the ALA’s 100 most challenged books of 2000-2009 and selected readings from the 2012 Library of Congress exhibit Books that Shaped America.
Last week, students in the Karabots Junior Fellows and Teva Pharmaceuticals Internship Programs tackled some controversial reading material. September 25-October 1 marked the celebration of Banned Books Week. Started in 1982, Banned Books Week raises awareness of books that have been challenged or outright banned in order to raise awareness of risks raised by censorship and encourage freedom of expression. Every year there are calls to restrict access to books held in bookstores and school and public libraries; the American Library Association (ALA) reports that since 1982 over 11,300 books have been challenged. Reasons for a challenge on a given book often stem from objections to content or subject matter, especially when it comes to access to minors. Some famous novels that have been challenged or banned include John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (for language and sexual references), Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (for its political message), Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (for its depictions of race) and even Dr. Seuss’ Hop on Pop (for encouraging violence against fathers!).
In the spirit of the season, the Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia displayed an exhibit of challenged books from their collection. CEPI also contributed, selecting books for the exhibit on behalf of our three Youth Programs. Their selections were:
- Karabots Junior Fellows: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (challenged in Knoxville, TN, for its alleged sexual content)
- Teva Pharmaceuticals Internship: Monster by Walter Dean Myers (challenged or banned in numerous locations for explicit or offensive language and mature themes)
- Out4STEM: Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin (challenged in several locations for, according to the ALA, “Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group,” among other charges)
The students visited the Library and talked with Library Assistant Caitlin Angelone, who introduced them to the entries in the exhibit and discussed the reasons people attempt to restrict access to certain books. As they explored the exhibit, our students shared their thoughts on intellectual freedom and censorship, and our instructors encouraged them to read a banned or challenged book for themselves.
If you would like to learn more about challenged books, the American Library Association maintains a list of the most frequently challenged books. The official page of Banned Books Week has curated a a selection of challenged books from the Library of Congress’ exhibit: Books that Shaped America. Feel free to read over the lists to see which ones you’ve read or may add to your reading list.